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That Sound You Thought You Heard...

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... could be the sound of wheels falling off.

Yeah, I know there are still thirty-two games left in the season, and with the Giants and Padres both winning big, the Cubs are now tied with San Diego (of all teams!) and San Francisco for the wild-card lead -- much as the 1998 wild-card race went, where there was no more than one game separating the top two teams for the last forty-five days of the season.

But this game, a 10-3 loss to the Astros which redefines the word "ugly", is something this team is simply going to have to shake off, forget forever, if they are to seriously contend in the five weeks left in the regular season, and through the postseason, games like this are not going to be able to occur, and now they've had two of them in the last three days.

Oh, and all of this was on a double-personal-milestone game for me: my 1700th Cub game, and 1600th game at Wrigley Field (the game in Milwaukee on the 19th was my 100th Cub road game).

You know, I deliberately waited to post because I wanted some perspective on this fiasco. Went to see "The Manchurian Candidate" (mini-review: Good acting, but not a movie that cried out to be remade, three stars) -- didn't help.

When I got back I had an e-mail from Kasey Ignarski, who got his name on the scoreboard today for his birthday, who wrote (after the earlier post regarding wanting to wait to post):

Al.. It's now 8:45 PM. Believe me, it didn't get any better. The only good thing was my name on the scoreboard. I ran into roadblock after roadblock getting to the park (I didn't hear anything about the triathlon and so I took LSD allthe way from the took about 1.5 hrs to get to Wrigley from the Stevenson! - WGN had a Jerry Lewis interview, BBM was simulcasting CBS morning shows - Nobody had traffic reports to tell me what was going on!). Parking was a bear after getting to the park that late. Then I had to still sit thru that mess.

Now, that's about how today's game felt. And Mike e-mailed me to say:

You really should write today's blog whilst incoherently fresh.

Well, obviously I didn't, but I think I can maintain that incoherence pretty well, so bear with me.

It's still August. But it was cloudy and cold when I left, so I put on three layers, and it didn't really clear out for good till about 3:00, so I was wearing my black ABC-7 pullover, which Bill from Rockford had to remind me was "White Sox colors", as he put it (it IS black, but that's the way they make them!), and I spent the first hour or so playing Al-Master.

See, Phil doesn't have a season ticket. He comes mostly on Fridays and Sundays, with the occasional Saturday. This day was a tough one, because all the women were to get the annual Enesco "Cherished Teddies" figurine, half of which are probably on eBay by now. But since Jeff couldn't come yesterday, he swapped his Saturday ticket for a Sunday ticket for Phil. Meanwhile, Dave had left me his Sunday ticket with instructions that he was going to call early in the morning to tell me if he was going to use it or not. He never did call, but I got word from Jeff that neither he nor Brian were coming. In the meantime, I had put out word for another ticket just in case, and all of these came through.

So, I figured, why not treat my son Mark to a game, since he wasn't doing anything after his sleepover with his friend (which isn't far from the ballpark). This required quite a few logistics, since I was already inside and Mark, being nine, couldn't wait in the long line by himself. Jeff was in line, so I called my wife, who was driving him over, to find Jeff in line -- then, I gave Phil both his ticket and Mark's, he found Jeff, and all was well.

Incoherent enough yet?

Then, we had total Tomato Failure. Clayton from California, a devoted reader of this blog who I met in June, was in town again and stopped by to say hi, only to let me know that he had intended to bring me an heirloom tomato, but since he had been in town since Tuesday, he didn't think it would still be any good. I agreed. Then the traditional tomato drop fell across the second and third innings -- no go, except for Matt Clement's single to right, which is rare enough.

Incoherent enough yet? Oh, I'm just warming up.

What was even more incoherent was the state of the Cub pitching staff. The Astros, left for dead a week ago, and now four games behind, scored in the first inning for the fourth day in a row, and with two more runs in the second, you figured that was about it for Clement, who doesn't usually get much run support. Corey Patterson smashed a rocket onto Sheffield leading off the bottom of the first (after we all figured nobody would hit one out today, and we were playing "Long-Distance Home Run Derby" with Carole and Sue who were in Terrace Reserved seats today, and I wound up having to pay Jeff for this. Someone had Moises Alou, but nobody sitting where we were, so I guess I owe someone $1), but that was it while Clement was in the game, and he had to leave with a slight back problem, though he says he'll make his next start. It took him 90 pitches to get 13 outs, so maybe that's just as well.

This game was absolutely winnable. The Cubs rallied to within 5-3 after six, and then Ryan Dempster came in and had a 1-2-3 seventh -- the first 1-2-3 inning the Cubs had all day. But then he had a meltdown in the eighth, hitting a batter, and then being replaced by Mike Remlinger, who hit Lance Berkman -- or did he? I haven't seen any replays but judging from some radio comments that Howard heard, and the reaction we heard to the replays that can be seen from the skybox level, it appears that Berkman might have been doing a real good acting job on the ball that "hit" him with the bases loaded.

After that Remlinger totally lost it and gave up three more hits, putting the game out of reach. Of course, then LaTroy Hawkins comes in to pitch the ninth in a totally non-pressure situation and has an easy inning, throwing only ten pitches. So maybe this is the trick -- tell him he's coming in seven runs down whenever he has to pitch in a save situation.

To finish this incoherent afternoon with a real touch of absurdity, Dan Wheeler, who was just acquired by the Astros yesterday, hit Derrek Lee with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth. All that accomplished was to get the Cubs out of the dugout, and delay the game several minutes while Mike Gallo came in to warm up. We were practically begging Nomar Garciaparra, who had grounded to short four times on the day (once into a DP), to do so again -- instead, he got a hit, prolonging the ridiculousness for one last batter.

And then, to add injury to incoherence, as I was carrying my scorecard back toward the car, I must have put my hand right on the Cub half of the scorecard and I pretty well smeared most of the scoring.

It was a smeary kind of day. It was a smeary kind of series.

Off to Montreal, where the Cubs had better unsmear themselves in a hurry.

Keep faith and hope, everyone.