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Cause And Effect?

I hate to say this too loudly because of what Sammy Sosa has meant to the Cub franchise for the last decade.

But in the five games this week, the Cubs have played decidedly better when Sammy has not been in the lineup, even in the game they lost 7-6 to the Expos in extra innings.

When Sammy has started, the Cubs have been shut out. Sammy sat in the second game today and the Cubs pounded out eighteen hits.

He has hit one home run since August 20. He is two for his last sixteen at-bats. Now, we were told that he had "bursitis" in his hip, and that's why he sat a couple of days earlier this week. It's obviously not getting any better, and maybe he needs to sit for a few more games. There's also the tempest in the teapot stirred when Sammy apparently went home during the game on Tuesday night, and was "unavailable" to pinch-hit in extra innings. There's no definitive word on why he left, but I got the impression that Dusty Baker was NOT happy with this.

At this point, Dusty needs to do what's best for the team, and what's best for the team may be to play Jason Dubois, or Ben Grieve if healthy, in right field for a few days.

The Cubs really needed a sweep today, but they settled for trading blowouts, losing 7-0 to the Marlins in game 1, and trampling them good in game 2, 11-2.

It was one of those days that they put in the tourist videos -- absolutely not a cloud in the sky, 73 degrees at game 1 gametime (a bit warmer, 76 for the first pitch of game 2), with a slight east wind. The crowd was a bit late-arriving, even with the large amount of publicity about the makeup doubleheader today, as the first game started an hour before the original 2:20 pm CT starting time. Even with that, from first pitch to last was only five hours and thirty minutes, nearly unheard-of for a doubleheader in the 21st Century. Both games were less than two and a half hours, even with the Cubs' season-high hit barrage (18) in the second game.

We tried everything superstition-wise. I wore my Wood jersey for game one, then changed to my Prior jersey for game two. Howard had called me and said he might be late-arriving (after game time) with today's sandwich, so I decided to postpone the Tomato Inning until game two. It was just before game 1, and I had my scorecard sitting on the bench, when Brian (who actually arrived before gate-opening, he says for the first time ever) spilled part of his mai tai on my card. It was his first Wrigley Field mai tai of the year, so we figured this would be good luck. No such -- though for the record, the Mai Tai Inning was the ninth. The second-game Tomato Inning was the fourth, where the Cubs did score, but by then the game appeared to be well in hand, 6-1.

Kerry Wood, just as Greg Maddux did on Wednesday, deserved better. Sammy and Corey decided to play "After You" in the outfield in the sixth, with the score still only 2-0 (after two really bad Ramon Martinez misplays had led to two unearned runs and a loud chorus of boos in the third). Sammy signaled "catch" and put his arm out, clearly calling for the ball, but Corey kept on coming. With another outfielder bearing down on him, naturally Sammy shied away, result: the ball dropped neatly between them, though I think one or the other did get a hand on the ball, and it should have been an error, which would have made all four runs unearned. What it should have been was the third out.

Lesson learned:

COREY! WHEN SAMMY CALLS FOR THE BALL, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!!!!

Well, maybe the first game wasn't to be anyway -- Carl Pavano, making a case for the Cy Young, won his 17th game of the year, and his second complete-game shutout, and made the Cubs look pretty sick -- Nomar was about the only one to solve him, with two hits including a double, and the double, well, that would have given the Cubs a run, except Tom Goodwin had apparently decided that since he was playing LF in the opener, that he should make the Alou Baserunning Screwup of the day, and got picked off first -- running halfway to second before being run back.

Lesson learned:

TOM! WHEN YOU'RE PICKED OFF, RUN TO SECOND! MAYBE THEY'LL THROW THE BALL INTO CF!!!!

The second game started promptly 30 minutes after game one, and after Jeff, Howard and Brian had left for Rockford to see the Riverhawks try to sweep the Frontier League championship series tonight. Jon came just in time for game two, and a guy in a wheelchair and about a half-dozen of his friends (inexplicably, all people from New York) sat down in front of us.

The game seemed like an afterthought: Wayne Messmer, who really isn't a very good PA announcer (he did a Mesa-spring-training-like job on the double-switches late in game 2), didn't even announce the starting lineups.

Maybe this was by design, so as to take the Marlins by surprise. Alou and Aramis Ramirez decided to take matters into their own hands, homering back-to-back in the third, making it 5-1 and chasing Logan Kensing, a rookie out of A ball making his ML debut, and for once this wasn't a guy from the minors making the Cubs look sick, instead it was the other way around, and guys who haven't hit all year (Neifi Perez, four hits -- where did he learn that? -- and Paul Bako, 3-for-3 with three runs and two RBI, about a month's worth of work) pounded the Marlins bullpen around for the aforementioned eighteen hits. In addition to everything good offensively, Mark Prior threw an efficient (100 pitches in 8 innings, no walks) game and this bodes well for the rest of the season.

Sight seen: a large contingent of Arizona State football fans; they're here in town for the ASU-Northwestern game tomorrow. One of them was wearing a Barry Bonds #24 ASU T-shirt -- wow, that's almost 20 years since Barry played there.

The Pirates beat the Astros tonight -- thanks, Buccos! -- and so the Cubs are tied with Houston, though they have two fewer losses, and with Randy Johnson going for Arizona tonight, the 98-loss (franchise record) D'backs actually have a chance to beat the Giants.

If he does there will be a three-way tie atop the wild card in the morning.

We also learned today that due to the approach of the dangerous Hurricane Ivan to Florida, that the Marlins and the Expos will indeed play at least two games of their series next week here in Chicago, at the Cell, single games Monday and Tuesday at 1:05. After that they'll figure out if they can return to Florida or not.

Tickets are $15 and are being considered lower-deck general-admission.

It'll be interesting to see what these games draw. We figure that the crowd will be half Sox fans rooting for the Marlins, and half Cub fans rooting for the Expos. Yeah, I might go to one of them.

Finally, someone had set one of the out-of-town scores on the board incorrectly, so when they started taking down the "NITE GAME" signs to post scores a little before six, they had to flip the Philadelphia and New York panels to reflect the fact that their game is in New York tonight.

As you may know, each city panel on the board is actually in two pieces -- it'd be way too heavy and unwieldy if it were only one. So as they started to switch the panels, it read, for a moment, which Jon and I spotted:
PHILADORK 
NEW YELPHIA
We told Phil that he's not a dork, but he was too busy telling us that the Cubs ought to sign both Carlos Beltran and J. D. Drew for next year.

Hang in there, Phil. Let's talk about next year later. We've got an exciting three weeks to go, yet.