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Where Do I Begin? (Part Deux)

... to write a post on a game as ugly, ugly, ugly, UGLY as this one?

Let's dispense with the particulars first. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 8-5 today, dropping them once again into a wild-card lead tie with San Diego, who beat the Reds 7-2.

Well, that's not so bad, you're thinking, if you haven't seen the scoreboards or highlight shows yet, or didn't watch the game, that's a loss, but the Dodgers are a good team, and...

Nope. There's almost no positive spin you can put on today's game. OK, here's a small one. The Tomato Inning made a decent comeback after a day off and a day of Wrigley Field tomatoes (I went to Jimmy John's myself today) -- it was the sixth, and Michael Barrett's (sigh, of course it was a solo) homer gave him a new career high in RBI's.

Here's the nicest thing about today. The weather was absolutely tourist-bureau gorgeous, low 70's, a few fair-weather cumulus clouds scudding by, and a gentle wind off the lake, and the 300th win ceremony for Greg Maddux before the game was tasteful and Greg the laconic one even managed to say a few words beyond "Thank you".

It reminded me of the day the Cubs threw for Sammy Sosa in September 1998, after which they went out and stunk out the joint and lost a game that was even more critical in the wild-card race of that season.

I'll tell you one thing. I know enough about the workings of the current leadership of the Cubs organization, particularly Jim Hendry, to know that he will absolutely NOT stand pat after a bullpen explosion (it was way too loud today to be termed an "implosion") like this afternoon's. There's an off-day tomorrow and the Cubs don't play till Tuesday night in Milwaukee, and I would absolutely expect a roster move and maybe more than one before the ballclub next takes the field. If Hendry's not on the phone right now, I'd be greatly surprised.

Let me point out the good thing about today's game: Mark Prior. He wasn't perfect -- allowing three runs (one of which scored after he had left) in 6.1 innings and 111 pitches (77 strikes) and absolutely showed flashes of the dominance that he had in the second half of last year, striking out nine, a season high. If Prior and Kerry Wood keep putting together outings like the last two days, the team ought to build confidence off of that, plus give opponents the fear that this pitching staff actually is, at last, the one that Cubs management, players and we fans thought we had leaving spring training.

Dave and I got into a discussion of who the Cubs ought to pick up, and I'll get to that later, but I told him that getting a closer isn't necessary. First of all, today's failure was not a failure of closing, but of those preceding the closer, who went from bad to worse to putrid.

Let's face it, everyone: there is absolutely something wrong with Kyle Farnsworth. Whatever it is -- whether it's his arm or his head -- he needs to go on the disabled list NOW. People say he ought to go to the minors, but his veteran status means he can refuse such an assignment. Frankly, he looks a lot like Joe Borowski looked just before he finally admitted he was hurt. Since Dr. Tightpants hasn't lost velocity, it may be all in his head. This is a good enough reason for a DL stint, and Todd Wellemeyer could be recalled... or...

The reason this post is a bit late is that after the game, we hosted a birthday party for Mark, who will be nine in a few days. Let's just say that an evening with eight hyperactive nine-year-olds is... well, it's loud. During the pizza-and-cake portion of the evening, all eight of them were loudly yelling, in the way nine-year-olds do, about who's going to make the World Series. I think I heard the consensus being the Red Sox and Cubs (hey, sometimes kids are prescient, right?) but I also heard other teams named, the Cardinals and White Sox (OK, so one of his good friends is a Sox fan. He's a good kid, so forgive him), and inexplicably, the Expos and Royals...

Which leads me to an idea. Scott Sullivan, with the Royals this year, has been an effective setup man for several seasons. Last year the White Sox picked him up around this time of year in their abortive drive for a division title. His ERA (4.26) is a bit high, but he doesn't give up longballs (6 in 57 IP) and he's been doing this for a very long time, and I doubt the Cubs would have to give up much for him.

Al Levine, a Chicago-area native who is a friend of Dave and Brian's, would also be a cheap pickup from the Tigers.

Neither of these guys is young, which would probably endear them to Dusty Baker, but both of them have been through pennant races.

Back to the game for a moment. Mike and I both agreed that despite Farnsworth's absolutely horrible appearance (a sharp line drive to second, a walk, and a hit batsman) wasn't the reason this game was lost. It was the fact that, with two out and the Cubs still leading 5-4, Cub relievers had three consecutive batters -- Cesar Izturis, Steve Finley and Milton Bradley -- down 0-2 and failed to retire any of them. They all got RBI hits, though Finley's landed only inches out of the reach of Mark Grudzielanek.

Mike and I have discussed this often -- the failure of pitchers to go right after hitters after they have them down in the count. They start trying to nibble corners and get cute, and what happened today is the sad and too frequent depressing result.

With the Dodgers coming in only once a year, I haven't gotten the chance to see Eric Gagne pitch very often, and today, Jim Tracy thought the game important enough to have Gagne throw two innings instead of one. No matter. In fact, Dusty outsmarted himself when he failed to double-switch when the inning began. Moises Alou had been ejected at the end of the 7th, and this surprised me when I read it in the game summary, because there was NO indication at the ballpark that this had happened.

Anyway, Tom Goodwin came in for Alou, but wound up being wasted when he had to leave when Glendon Rusch entered to pitch. When Jose Macias ran out to left field, Goodwin stood there, hands on hips, looking at him as if to say, "You have GOT to be joking."

This is not a way to win ballgames, my friends.

Anyway, I mention Macias because when he came up against Gagne, I said to Mike, "Here is how 'overmatched' is defined in the dictionary." Sure enough, a three-pitch strikeout ensued.

Gagne's so successful because unlike ESPN's current analyst and early 90's maniac pitcher Rob Dibble, a man with a similar build and fastball, Gagne simply does not walk people -- only 13 in 58 innings entering today's game, and that means you have to hit the 98 MPH fastball he throws, which ain't easy. This is exactly the reason that Kyle Farnsworth fails -- he doesn't throw enough strikes, and at least in recent outings, has simply not trusted his fastball.

Sammy & Nomar watch -- Nomar had three hits, and even the out he hit was hit hard, and he took Jose Lima successively to left, center and right field, showing how good a student of pitching this man is. He double-clutched on a potential DP ball from Milton Bradley in the seventh that turned into a run-scoring FC, but you know why? I think he was making good and darn sure that 2B umpire Jerry Crawford saw him keeping his foot on the base, a reaction to the bad Bruce Froemming call of the other day.

Sammy had a decent day, hitting a sharp single and also a fly to right that would have been an opposite-field homer on most days. Milwaukee has always been a good place for him to hit, so perhaps he's laying the groundwork to break out of his slump.

So.

There are forty-five games left in the season. The Cubs are still tied atop the wild-card race with two other flawed teams, the Giants and Padres. I remind you, as I reminded everyone in the bleachers today, that for the last forty-five games of the 1998 wild-card race, no more than one game separated the top two teams, and the result, as you surely remember, was the memorable Cubs/Giants tiebreaker game.

Keep the faith and hope, and mark my words, I believe the Cubs will make at least one roster move before they take the field at Miller Park on Tuesday night.