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A Long Day's Journey Into... Wet

As the ninth inning began today, with Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa due up, Mike reminded me that on April 16, with the very same umpiring crew that's here this weekend, Mo and Sammy hit back-to-back homers for a walkoff win over the Reds.

He then said, "I don't think that's going to happen today," and I had to agree, with the wind blowing in stiffly over the left-field wall. It was a lot warmer on that day four months ago, too, 76 degrees at game time, compared to today's 69. It felt colder than that -- I have no idea where they actually measure the reported game time temperature, but it doesn't seem to come from anywhere inside the ballpark.

We had June weather in April, August in May, and now that it's August, we're having May. Or maybe September. The irony of today's rain was that it didn't start till about 4:30, which would have been long after the game ended, if Fox hadn't exercised its right to not carry this game, and as a result, the Cubs moved the starting time from 12:20 to 3:05, so it could be televised via WGN. It was dry, in fact, most of the day, after an overnight deluge -- about three inches of rain measured on the north side of the city, and when I had left for work at 3 am, there was a lake of water lapping at the curb in front of my house, leading to my worry all through work that I'd return home to water in my basement. Luckily, it stopped raining by about six and all the street water drained into the sewers, where it belongs.

For the game, I was way, way, way underdressed -- t-shirt and shorts. Well, when I left the house it was fairly mild and humid, but the temperature seemed to steadily drop all afternoon. When Jeff called me to say he couldn't come (he had stuff to do that couldn't wait) and did I know of anyone who needed the ticket, I even asked him if he could drop off a sweatshirt. He'd already left the house without one, though. Then I thought I might buy one, but the cheapest one in the bleacher concession stand was $35. No way on that one. So, about the fourth ining, knowing that it was going to start raining soon, I put the poncho on. It's a lovely shade of Cubbie blue, and it kept the wind off me. Yeah, it was a lousy fashion statement. Dave said he was cold even wearing a sweatshirt. Only Mike, who thought to bring a jacket, was dressed for the weather.

The Cubs knew before they took the field that they could pick up a game in the wild-card race, as the Giants had lost to the Braves in one of the games that Fox-TV DID want to televise in the early-afternoon timeslot. But they sure didn't come out playing that way, and despite a furious comeback, just wound up with another depressing one-run loss, 7-6 to the Astros today. It was Roger Clemens' 14th win of the year and 324th of his career, tying him with Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan for 12th place on the all-time wins list. I only regret that the vagaries of suspensions and schedules prevented a possible Clemens-Greg Maddux matchup; there hasn't been a matchup of 300-game winners in 17 years, and unless Clemens returns in 2005, there may not be another for many, many years to come.

Carlos Zambrano had nothing in the first two innings, and he decided to subject us to pretty much every facet of bad pitching he could imagine -- line-drive hits (the Jeff Bagwell RBI double in the first probably would have been a long home run on any other day), walks, and a magical play in which Z failed to catch what would have been an inning-ending throw (after Derrek Lee made a terrific diving stop), which allowed a run to score, then made a terrible throw to the plate (on which I was astounded to learn on reading the boxscore, that the error was charged to Michael Barrett), letting a second run cross the plate, and finally, failed to go back and cover home afterwards, which sent the speedy Carlos Beltran home on a play where three runs scored and the ball never left the infield. The second was, incidentally, the Tomato Inning, and I had to use a Wrigley Field hotdog tomato today. If that's the result, I think I'm sticking to Jimmy John's from now on.

So Clemens has a 5-0 lead and rain's coming. Game over, right?

Not exactly. The Cubs did chip away with two in the third, and would have tied the game in the sixth with a four-consecutive-hit three-run rally off Clemens, except that another of those disturbing two-out-nobody-on rallies by the visitors happened in the top of the sixth, an inning in which, among other things, Dusty was apparently trying to see how many pitches Z could throw when he was soaking wet. The final run in that inning, which turned out to be the eventual winning run, scored when Aramis Ramirez was charged with a very tough error, on a ball that he probably couldn't handle due to the rain. It never rained very hard, but steadily for about an inning and a half just around that time, and when you haven't played well enough early on, there's simply no margin for error(s) like this.

By that time Dave had left, going to root on his Rockford Riverhawks (he's the owner) as they go for their own division clincher tonight, and Phil went downstairs saying he was probably leaving too. About an inning later I had to go. No, not leave the game, I had to GO and I knew it couldn't wait till I left, so I braved the men's room crowd which was starting to back up onto the ramp (something that's been unheard of until this season, incidentally), and it went fast enough -- I missed only two batters. Mike stayed put and kept score for me.

The rain let up into a fine mist, so we put our umbrellas down, though I kept the poncho on (mainly to keep the scorecard dry, which I did), and the Cubs made a game of it in the 8th, with three consecutive hits including a sweet, sweet Nomar Garciaparra pinch-hit RBI single (he was rested today and may have to rest a game or two on the turf in Montreal, but this guy is such a good hitter -- he went exactly with the pitch and rocketed it to the opposite field), and the Cubs actually had the tying run on third with only one out and Corey Patterson up, but this time Bad Corey returned and he struck out on a really bad pitch into the dirt.

The twelve-pitcher staff hurt the Cubs again today, I think. Yes, I know the bullpen's overextended which is why Z threw a ridiculous 125 pitches without finishing the sixth. And the staff today included the recalled Todd Wellemeyer, because as predicted yesterday, Kyle Farnsworth is on the DL, but not for the reason you'd think -- it's because he got mad and kicked a fan in the clubhouse tunnel and hyperextended his knee.

I shall not comment further on this.

Anyway, with 12 pitchers that means you have only five bench players, and one of them is by necessity your backup catcher, so that meant that when the pitcher's spot came up in the bottom of the 9th, Mark Grudzielanek had to bat against Brad Lidge. This would, of course, be the situation for Todd Hollandsworth, who's likely out for the year anyway. Grudz did manage to coax a two-out walk, and then I said to Mike, "If Barrett hits a homer here, this game will move into the category of Cub Legends."

It didn't, but it took a terrific diving stab by Astros 3B Mike Lamb to prevent a double down the line which would have tied the game.

Which, in a way, was OK with me. I was cold and wet and it was late, and I had kind of written the game off, and knew the Cubs would come out of today still leading the wild card, and the sun WILL come out tomorrow (no, no singing from me, trust me!) ... and we continue, hopeful and faithful as ever.