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Do NOT Panic!

As I told Mike and Howard, and as I think every one of you will agree, the Cubs needed to take three of four in the series against the Reds, and so could afford to lose one game.

Well, there it was: a boring, flat, lifeless, cold 8-3 loss to the Reds tonight.

Remember. Pennant races have these types of games, and teams come out of it just fine. Last year the Cubs lost games just like this to teams just as bad -- come to think of it, they lost 9-7 at Cincinnati on September 25 last year, and had to get help from the Brewers, and sweep a doubleheader, to win it.

Panic not, my friends.

Yeah, it looked really bad. Greg Maddux had trouble with his control, and I don't want to be one of those complaining about strike zones, but plate umpire Mike DiMuro was all over the place tonight, for both teams -- though the Cubs didn't take advantage of it, they spent their time swinging wildly at stupid pitches, and give Reds third baseman Felipe Lopez some credit, because he made at least four really nice stops on sharp grounders that otherwise would have gone through.

Since Maddux counts on pinpoint control and hitting his spots, and if he thinks he's hitting them and he's not, what happened tonight is absolutely predictable -- home runs. Unfortunately, Greg hit batters before each of the first two homers -- one of which was an absolutely inexcusable two-run bomb by a guy hitting .169 at the time he hit it (Darren Bragg). You can forgive solo shots, but the two-run versions put the Cubs in too deep a hole, and then when Adam Dunn hit one that landed behind us -- an amazing shot on a day when the wind was blowing in at a reported 20 MPH and seemed harder, that was the end of it.

Today's designated Todd Wellemeyer bad-inning thrower was Michael Wuertz, who actually had pitched pretty well in his last dozen or so outings, only to throw nine consecutive balls when he first came in tonight, leading to another run, and then Dusty did one of the pitching changes that drive me nuts, after Wuertz settled down, he insisted on bringing in Kent Mercker -- lefty vs. lefty, you understand -- and he caught the walk bug, and then gave up a run-scoring single to a guy hitting ZERO SIXTY THREE (pitcher Josh Hancock -- and there was another Cincinnati Josh, Hall, who came into Wrigley Field last September and shut down the Cubs in just this same sort of way and hasn't been heard from since), for heaven's sake, and man, it was just ugly.

Of course, after it was all pretty much in the books, THEN Sergio Mitre comes in and throws two of the prettiest innings we've seen all year. Figures.

Again, no matter what happens, the Cubs will have no worse than a share of the wild-card lead after tonight. Houston has won 2-1 -- I swear, the Cardinals are laying down for them, so they are a half-game behind the Cubs, and even if the Giants win their game at San Diego (in progress as I write this), the Cubs will be tied with them.

It was one of those nights. The game-time temperature was 59 degrees, and with the wind it felt colder, and it was as if summer just decided to pack up and go south overnight, and with the blowout game early, there seemed to be an inordinate number of ejections from the bleachers, though most of it was for pretty harmless stuff. This happens when games get out of hand -- the drinking gets heavier, but it wasn't anything security couldn't handle today. Brian brought a couple of his firehouse mates, but by the middle innings they were deep into beer (and some of those disgusting nachos, which they re-christened "Rally Nachos" and made me eat one. Didn't help, though the Cubs did score two runs in the Tomato Inning, the fifth), and all three of them decided they'd had enough and left in the eighth.

Let's be optimistic, shall we? This was the last regular season night game. Tomorrow, sunshine returns to the Yard, and sunshine will return to our team. Onward to victory, onward with faith and hope, and never give up.