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I Came Back From San Francisco For THIS??

It was a nice evening... for NOVEMBER!

I had no idea that the plane today would bring back a heap of San Francisco weather with it. After a week's worth of mostly sunny days and only a little bit of the famous San Francisco damp fog and wind, we got back at 2:30 this afternoon, and I thought today would be lucky, because:

* our plane landed early and they didn't make us wait in the "penalty box", we went right to the gate;

* our bags were the first ones off our flight at baggage claim;

* there was absolutely no traffic on the Kennedy Expressway, and at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon, that's almost unheard-of.

Seeing the cloudy weather, I dressed in three layers tonight and was still cold; the game-time temperature was announced as 65 degrees but with a wind howling right at us, it felt a lot colder. Like playoff weather, actually, and we thought that was another good omen.

Nope.

The Cubs lost to the Padres tonight 8-6, and one thing is really, really clear.

Hitting five solo homers, and getting a run on a walk, a bobble and a bloopy single, is NOT my idea, or anyone else's for that matter, of a playoff-caliber offense.

More on this in a moment.

Despite the rotten weather, it was nice to be back in our own ballpark. I had a nice pre-game conversation with four guys who had driven in just for tonight's game from Dubuque, Iowa, and Andy, the one who I spoke with the most, seemed first bemused and then amazed when I told him what I do for a living and how many games I attend, then he asked me, "Do you post on the Cubs message board?"

No, I told him, but then gave him the address for this blog, and I figured I'd give him a thrill by mentioning him. Hi, Andy! Hope you guys enjoyed the game anyway, despite the result.

As Sue was also here with her brother, his wife and another friend, we played Home Run Derby, and amazingly enough, I got first pick, which has never, ever happened.

I picked Nomar. Nuff said. After the back-to-backers by Sammy Sosa (his 25th, and 564th of his career, putting him in sole possession of 8th place on the all-time list and giving him a shot at 40 homers this year -- and about 84 RBI) and Moises Alou in the second inning, Nomar ("King Nomar" in a sign that I saw in the first row of the bleachers tonight) hit his first as a Cub. Then Derrek Lee smacked one of his own, two outs later, in tonight's tomato inning. Incidentally, I had been used to dropping the tomato on the visitor's end of the scorecard -- the top portion -- for the last three days, and the first drop accidentally landed on the Padres half. So, a new tomato piece was called upon and landed squarely on the fourth inning.

Sure, this was lots of fun and got lots of cheers. But by then that made the score 4 to 8.

I'm beginning to wonder if something's physically wrong with Mark Prior, and if not, his head has got to be completely screwed up. He's had a couple of good starts, particularly the last one in Colorado, but tonight he just looked bad. It didn't help that he absolutely had Ryan Klesko struck out in the third inning, but the veteran Cub-hater, plate umpire Bruce Froemming, didn't agree, and that would have ended the inning after Prior made a nifty Maddux-like stab of a comebacker, to start a double play. In fact, the Padres produced the trick of scoring four runs in back-to-back innings, both of which had double plays, the second one a 1-2-3 job with the bases loaded.

After that, Glendon Rusch, who had relieved Prior, made his only mistake of the game, and Ramon Hernandez took advantage for San Diego's only homer of the night, a three-run job that just made it into the first row in right field. After that, Rusch and the rest of the bullpen allowed only two hits and a walk in six innings of work.

So -- is it injury? Or was Prior just pissed at the missed strike call? If it's the latter, then he needs to get his head screwed on straight again, just like Matt Clement had to after the missed Barry Bonds dropped foul popups, after which he totally lost his composure and command.

This, you'd think, would be a job for our pitching coach. Or Greg Maddux. Or somebody.

The Cubs did make it interesting in the ninth, after Lee's second homer of the night and a walk, Aramis Ramirez (who'd been given a needed day off) had a superb pinch-hit at-bat, and came within about ten feet of hitting a game-tying homer himself. That's still not the way to win games. The Cubs now have four players on pace to hit 30 homers, and three others (Patterson, Barrett and Walker) with a chance to hit 20.

It won't mean a darn thing unless some of the other players on this club (are you listening, Corey?) can draw walks or get singles or something. I still can't imagine how Dusty Baker can see a game like tonight, when his own pitchers sealed their doom by walking six batters, and not see the value in taking pitches, something Cub hitters simply don't do enough. Example: Tom Goodwin pinch-hits for Rusch in the seventh, the lead cut to 8-5, and swings at the first pitch from Scott Linebrink, a reliever the Cubs smacked around pretty good in San Diego in May, and lined out to right.

Excuse me? Anyone listening? Let's get some baserunners!!!

Despite the loss, the Cubs maintain a one-game lead over the Padres in the wild-card race, and all the other nearby contenders (the Giants, the Phillies, the Marlins) also lost tonight, and the Phillies have now lost Kevin Millwood for what appears to be an extended period of time.

Finally, it was 70's Night at the ballpark, a day when the Cubs rescind their "No Costumes" rule and encourage people to dress like idiots. I had to laugh at the guys who came in with Afros about four feet high. We speculated they must have had beer bottles hidden in there. Mike & I, meanwhile, pretty much dressed the way we did in the 70's -- jeans and sneakers. Some things, after all, are immutable.