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Catching Up

Mike decided to take today off work and come to the game -- for one thing, it was at the time he made this choice, a possible Maddux 300th win start. About the middle of the 9th inning, I asked him, "You glad you took the day off?"

Howard returned today with sandwiches in hand, though arriving late, we both decided that the Tomato Inning would get the day off. Wouldn't have mattered, probably, anyway. Howard is off to New England with his family on vacation tomorrow, which will include a stop at Fenway Park for Saturday's Sox/Sox game, and so I'll bring the sandwiches myself over the weekend.

Jeff and Krista just got back into town this morning, returned the rental car they drove across country and promptly got a flat tire on their own car on the way down the Kennedy Expressway to the ballpark. Luckily, the car is new and still under warranty, so once they got it into the dealer, the tire should be fixed for free, and Jeff made it to the game without having been home yet.

None of them made it to the ballpark for a while after gate-opening, so I spent my time perusing the current issue of Sports Illustrated, which is a college football preview. Frankly, I'm not all that interested in college football, but it passed the time in the sunshine, and then I read Consumer Reports, which has a long article on how to protect yourself against computer spam and viruses. I have a few tricks, but reveal them here? Uh-uh! No way!

As it turned out, we all should not have bothered. The Cubs kept it close for eight innings and then looked as bad as they have all year at home, with the possible exception of Opening Day, and gave up six runs in an ugly, ugly ninth inning, and the Dodgers won easily 8-1. The only solace that I can take from this is, that after that amazingly bad Opening Day loss (also pitched by Greg Maddux), the Cubs won six in a row.

It got so bad that Eric Gagne, who was warming up with the score 2-1, sat down again and the bottom of the ninth was pitched by somebody with the unlikely name of Yhency Brazoban (and that's the way it's spelled on the scorecard and on his shirt).

After three really rotten, drizzly, rainy, cold days, today started the same way, and I wore three layers (jacket, sweatshirt, T-shirt) to the ballpark. By the time the gates opened at 12:20, the sun was breaking through and only the T-shirt was needed for the rest of the afternoon. It was still nearly 20 degrees below normal -- 65 at game time -- and the wind was listed in the boxscore as 9 MPH. Wrong. It was blowing in fairly hard, something that robbed a couple of players, notably Sammy Sosa in the fifth with two men on, of home runs. This, even though balls were flying out pretty good during batting practice.

Good defense by Corey Patterson -- and credit where credit is due -- kept the game close. In the seventh he pulled off a DP nearly identical to yesterday's, throwing a strike to the plate after snaring a line drive by Cub-killer Steve Finley (who had three RBI just to spite us anyway), and in the eighth he ended the inning throwing out Adrian Beltre trying to advance to third after a medium-deep fly ball. You know, maybe, just maybe, Corey is finally beginning to blossom. Today was his 25th birthday, and I think at that age you can officially no longer be called a "prospect" (for perspective, consider that David Kelton is only four months younger than Patterson). If it's happening now, it's not a moment too soon. Corey also drew yet another walk today.

This game was winnable until Glendon Rusch came in to start the ninth. To be fair, one of the batters he faced hit a Bartman-like ball to Moises Alou; predictably, perhaps, Alou dropped it for an error, and after a walk, Kyle Farnsworth came in and made a ridiculous throw to the plate with the bases loaded, that wound up being charged as an error to Michael Barrett. By then the game was way out of hand, so much so that a pinch runner, Jose Hernandez, came up to bat after scoring a run in the pinch-running capacity.

Other good things that happened in this fiasco: Greg Maddux settled down after a shaky first inning and threw really well into the seventh; in fact, there was only one hard-hit ball off him all day, a Cesar Izturis double. The other five hits were dinky little singles, but with the lack of offense (and in fairness, Odalis Perez is a pretty good pitcher, and the Cubs rarely hit him well), it would have been enough even without the 6-run LA explosion in the ninth inning.

There are rumors that if the White Sox fall further out of the race, Jose Valentin might become available, and with the thought that Todd Hollandsworth is out for the year (which I fear he is), this would be a good pickup. Valentin can play several positions (OK, none of them very well, but you get the idea), is a good left-handed bat, and would be insurance for the Cubs just in case they cannot retain Nomar.

LaTroy Hawkins began his three-game suspension today, and let's hope we actually need a closer the next two days, or maybe not -- how about a couple of blowouts? Meanwhile, no decision was made on Kerry Wood's appeal, so he will start tomorrow. I wonder if after that, it'd be too late to drop the appeal and start serving the suspension on Sunday, which would mean, as it did for Carlos Zambrano, he wouldn't miss a start.

Still and all, the Cubs can be no worse-off than a wild-card tie after tonight's action.

Keep the faith, all. This one still only counts as one loss.

Finally, Jeff & I both spotted a woman wearing a T-shirt, just as the game was about ending and she was leaving, reading as follows:

Alex G. Is Gone
I'm 30
What Now?

(and on the back)

GO CUBS