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Rationalizations

1) It only counts as one loss.

2) The Cubs have lost five straight series to the White Sox. So what?

3) The Cubs lost four of six to the White Sox last year and made the playoffs anyway.

4) The Cubs have had a better record than the White Sox in two of the last three seasons.

5) Did I mention it only counts as one loss?

Oh, and couldn't the Sox have traded Miguel Olivo and others to Seattle for Freddy Garcia BEFORE today's game, when he homered and drove in two runs and threw Corey Patterson out stealing, taking a potentially really big inning away from the Cubs?

(Incidentally, if Garcia stays on rotation he will miss the series next weekend, a good thing since he's hot and in his only start against the Cubs with the Mariners in 2002, he gave up one run in eight innings, with seven strikeouts, and won.)

OK, I'm done rationalizing. This was an ugly game, today's 9-4 loss to the White Sox. It would have been a winnable game if:

(OK, here come some more...)

1) Greg Maddux had been able to throw strikes anywhere but up in the zone, where the Sox mashed him for eleven hits including homers by Olivo and Timo Perez (yes, Timo Perez), and also not botched one of the grounders up the middle that he usually snags;

2) The Cubs hadn't run themselves out of a couple of rallies;

3) The Aramis Ramirez who played for the Pirates hadn't shown up and made two errors today;

and

4) Oh, that's enough. When I leave the Cell after a Cub series, I really feel drained. It's not a playoff-type series for the Cubs, I keep telling myself, it's just another road series. But the Sox fans and the noise that they make give it a carnival atmosphere, if not a playoff atmosphere, and I think the Cubs actually dread coming there. Kerry Wood said it best, a year ago after the series at the Cell:

Now we can worry about playing baseball. It's a fun series for the fans and everybody enjoys the Cubs-White Sox rivalry. But for us, it's another game and there is a lot of attention that we feel is sometimes a little overboard. I'm just glad it's over with.

He's right. I tried everything today. I got a hot dog with onions before the game, and before I knew it, I had onion stains on my scorecard. They wound up being in the Derrek Lee square in the 7th, and the Paul Bako square in the 8th. Neither batted. So it's safe to say that onions don't have the same effect as tomatoes, and we will have no more Onion Innings this year.

Today, none of our group was there (or at least accessible -- Mike had an upper deck ticket) and so I sat near the Sox fans that -- gasp! -- I have actually become somewhat friendly with, enough so to know first names. You already know Jesus (and he told me today he's going to be in the bleachers next Sunday -- watch out!), and today I was formally introduced to Nick and his nephew Aaron.

And they are nice guys, really. No, I mean it. They don't bait Cub fans. They don't yell "Cubs suck". They root passionately for their team and they're knowledgeable and they scoreboard-watch like we do and root for the teams that are playing Minnesota, their closest competition. It's funny to hear fans of other teams disparage their own like we do when rallies fizzle -- I had to laugh when Paul Konerko came up in the first, when one more Maddux strikeout would have gotten him out of the inning with no damage, me fearing the worst, and Nick calling him "Popup Paul". Of course, Konerko smacked a two-run single.

Sammy Sosa hit his first two homers since coming back from the DL, the first one a massive 463-foot shot into the new CF patio that's above the bleachers, and when he came up the third time I told Nick that if he hit a third, he would set a new ML record for most three-homer games in a career (currently tied with the old NY Giant Johnny Mize, with six). Nick was impressed, and instead of disparaging Sosa, he said it'd be cool to be around to see history made. Unfortunately, Sammy didn't oblige, though he didn't oblige today's cool sign-bringer, either. Someone brought a carefully-printed sign saying "SOSA WHIFF-O-METER" with his career total on it (2020 entering the game today), with other numbers ready to go. Sammy grounded out and flied deep to center in his other at-bats.

All in all, the entire series was somewhat less intense than previous Cub visits to the Cell. I didn't find the fans as hostile as previous years, and in fact, it felt more like a regular road series at, say, St. Louis, where the fans are passionate about their own team. Maybe this truly has morphed into a real baseball rivalry, rather than who can yell "You guys suck!" the loudest.

The only discordant note today was a small brouhaha near me in LF in the 8th inning, and three white-shirted Sox security dragged off a guy wearing a Cub shirt -- though I didn't see exactly what he did to merit this treatment.

Other baseball-related Cub news: Mike Remlinger was placed on the DL today, replaced by Michael Wuertz, who actually threw two pretty good innings in relief of Maddux; Todd Hollandsworth had to leave the game (reluctantly; he kept trying to convince Dusty to leave him in) after fouling a ball off his shin. X-rays were negative and I doubt he'll miss any time; and Kerry Wood threw a three-inning simulated game today.

I swear, if they ever had a simulated World Series the Cubs would win every year, they have so many simulated games.

There are two weeks before the All-Star break and I doubt we'll see Kerry back before then.

Finally, with the Reds losing big to the Pirates today, the Cubs remain tied for second, except now five games behind the Cardinals, who finished a sweep of the Beltran-less Royals today. The Cubs have five games left with St. Louis, and it's pretty imperative to win at least four of those. On the comparable weekend a year ago, the Cubs were also second behind the Cardinals... but only a game behind, rather than five.

It's time to begin cutting that down to size.