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What A Difference A Year Makes

Six days short of a year ago (remember, this is a leap year), one of the most highly-hyped regular season games in Cub history occurred when the Yankees and Roger Clemens faced the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Clemens' first start ever against the Cubs, and his opposition was Kerry Wood.

That was a magical day -- Clemens going for his 300th win, and Eric Karros denying it to him with a three-run homer, and the Cubs won it 5-2.

The next time we wanted Clemens to be throwing against the Cubs, unfortunately, he was pitching against the Marlins in the World Series last October 22.

Times have, unfortunately, changed. Wood is out indefinitely, and so it was one-letter-different Matt ClemenT against ClemenS today; Clemens is far away from the Yankees, and Eric Karros is playing 2000 miles away in Oakland, and the Cubs played one of their worst games of the year, sleepwalking through a 5-1 loss to the Astros, which, coupled with the Reds' 3-1 win over the Marlins (after Dontrelle Willis took a perfect game till two out in the seventh inning), put the Cubs a season-high four and a half games out of first place.

The Houston win made Clemens 8-0 for this year and his 318th career win, and I read with amusement the thought in the papers today that Clemens, the likely NL All-Star starting pitcher, will have his old NY nemesis Mike Piazza as his catcher. Watch for Clemens' first pitch to go straight to Piazza's mask.

I have an excuse for being tired on Wednesdays, which are the last day of my work week. What was the Cubs' excuse? They had the same short turnaround that the Astros did from last night's game, which didn't go all that late, but they seemed bored and unfocused. Matt Clement threw well enough, but he was constantly in trouble, and all four of the runs he allowed scored after two were out (the first one of which, he threw a wild pitch that bounced crazily off the new bricks behind the plate).

I don't really have anything good to say about any Cub's performance on this day. Corey Patterson got roundly booed -- I told Howard that Corey was going to have his name legally changed to "Corey Alou" so he would think everyone was chanting his name instead of booing him. Word is that Dusty Baker is furious at Patterson for his horrendous at-bats in last night's debacle. And he had another poor day today, popping up weakly twice, grounding out and flying to center to end the game (when Howard was convinced he was going to hit a home run, which would have been appropriately meaningless).

I'd say bench him, but for who? Jose Macias?

The injuries really have taken a toll. Todd Hollandsworth has done a really good job filling in for Sammy Sosa, but that weakens the bench tremendously. And, despite the fact that the bullpen has done an OK job the last two days, I'd think that on the off day, there will be several roster moves. Jimmy Anderson and Mike Wuertz really have to go -- I mean, how could it get much Wuertz? (You can whack me with a clipboard now -- Howard did, or at least tried to.)

Further, you cannot take two starting Triple-A outfielders like David Kelton and Jason Dubois, put them on a major league bench, and expect them to produce when they are getting three at-bats a week. The club needs to bring up guys like Bill Selby, who have major league experience, have filled the bench role before, can play several positions, and Selby, in fact, is hitting quite well at Iowa.

Teams do go through stretches like this, and I remind myself (and you) again that the 2003 Cubs were under .500 and 5 1/2 games out of first place nearly two months later in the season than now (late July).

The return of Mark Prior on Friday is not only a boost for the pitching staff talent-wise, but a real psychological boost for the entire organization. Today's crowd seemed bored entirely -- there had to be 5,000 no-shows (due to the threat of rain, though it never rained at all and the sun came out by the end of the game), and the biggest reactions all day were the boos for Patterson. I'll expect the ballpark to be rocking on Friday.