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Gut-Check Time

A week ago Sunday, the Cubs won a 15-inning game in Anaheim, which helped propel them to the four-game sweep in Houston.

I've always felt that when a team wins a championship, there's one game that you can point to, where the ballclub realized that it is of championship caliber, and takes that leap over the rest of the teams, and that even though you could have some tough losses for the rest of the season, it doesn't matter.

The "Sandberg Game", which coincidentally happened 20 years ago yesterday, was such a game. The 1989 Cubs had such a game on August 29, when they came from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Astros 10-9. There were four such games last year in the amazing series vs. the Cardinals at Wrigley Field in September.

Let us hope that yesterday's wild 10-9 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis doesn't become such a game for the Cardinals, which it easily could.

I'd almost have been happier if Albert Pujols' three-run homer in the fourth yesterday had been the only runs of the game. At least then we wouldn't have had to go through the agony of coming from behind twice, taking a four-run lead, and then losing anyway.

There are so many culprits I don't want to single anyone out, but the thing Dusty Baker has to instill in everyone on the team is:


Yes, Kent Mercker was being squeezed on the strike zone. But I saw several pitches from Cardinal pitchers called in exactly the same way. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook didn't call a very good game last night, but he was consistently bad for both teams (Cardinal pitchers issued six walks, certainly uncharacteristic for the Cubs, who as we all know don't walk that much).

That doesn't justify the outburst, and it certainly didn't justify losing Michael Barrett. Would Barrett have stopped the pitch that got by Paul Bako, allowing the winning run to score? We don't know. But the Cubs could have used his bat in the ninth inning, and Steve Stone was throughout that inning, expressing puzzlement at why the Cubs even bothered to bring Rey Ordonez into the game, only to pinch-hit for him. At this point, Ordonez is simply a wasted roster spot. I'd expect Ricky Gutierrez to be called up as soon as the Cubs feel he's ready. Yes, at this stage of his career Gutierrez isn't a very good player, but he has to be better than a guy hitting .088 (3 for 34).

Furthermore, the fact that Mark Grudzielanek pinch hit for Ordonez, would have forced Grudz to play SS if the Cubs had tied the game. Maybe this isn't such a bad idea, even for a game or two, just to get both Todd Walker's bat (another homer last night, his 11th) and Grudz' into the lineup.

I don't have a whole lot more to say today, only that Matt Clement will try to right the ship tonight, and that's so important going into this weekend's series at the Cell. For the Cubs and most Cub fans, this is just another series of road games against a pretty good team.

For the Sox and their fans, it always seems to be a matter of life and death. Silly, but true.