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It's Over

I know you feel how I feel -- that we invest so much of ourselves, not just our time and our thoughts, but our emotions and feelings, into the baseball team known as the Chicago Cubs.

And that is why tonight's performance affected me in the way it did, and I'm writing this not long after it ended, and maybe by tomorrow morning I'll feel differently, but I wanted to put this down now, while it's still fresh. Maybe I'll even feel better by the end of this post.

This feels like the end, everyone. Tonight's 6-0 shutout loss to the Expos was about the worst performance I have ever seen out of a Cubs team, and that includes the 1980 version that lost 98 games, the 1997 version that lost 14 in a row, the 1999 club that up and quit on Jim Riggleman and cost him his job, and the 2002 club that pretty much did the same number on Don Baylor (though you can make a good argument that he deserved it!).

You'll say that I'm taking this one too hard and maybe I am. But the least you can expect out of a team that is this strong "on paper" (and yes, I've heard all the jokes about tearing the grass out and putting paper down in Wrigley Field, and somehow those jokes simply aren't too funny tonight), is effort, is trying, is playing playoff-caliber baseball.

They didn't do that tonight. Scott Downs, who was once in the Cub farm system and was traded in 2000 for Rondell White, and who Dave used to disparagingly call "Hugh Downs" (after the former ABC newscaster), who came into the game with a 7.22 ERA and exactly zero career CG's and shutouts, threw one, allowing only five harmless singles, and with the three double plays, faced only twenty-nine batters, two over the minimum. Here's how bad it got -- I didn't even write down the last play of the game on my card, Nomar Garciaparra's flyout to center.

How can that be? Because this team appears to have quit. Did Nomar have a good day? No. He hit into two double plays, one on the very first pitch he saw. There were a number of Cubs pulling that nonsense again, hacking away rather than make Downs, who had walked 20 batters in 31 innings coming into this game, run deep into counts. It's pathetic to think that Gary Matthews, who actually walked 103 times as a Cub in 1984, is the hitting coach teaching this sort of thing.

Did Moises Alou have a good day? In the first inning, he briefly ran into the dugout -- was he going to "toughen up his hands"? I guess we'll never know. And today's Alou Baserunning Screwup, which has to have about a five- or six-game streak going, occurred early in the game, the bottom of the second, when he got caught off second base when Aramis Ramirez lined out hard to right field. The game was still scoreless at that point, but then Sammy Sosa took care of that with a rookie-mistake type of misjudgment of a fly ball in the top of the third, which went for a double, and a sac bunt and a sac fly later, the game's first run.

Greg Maddux deserved better. Through seven innings he'd only allowed that hit and two other harmless singles, and then the wheels, the chassis, and the engine all fell off at once, with Derrek Lee making a stupid-looking error on a ball that could have been an inning-ending DP, and slamming his glove hand down in disgust, instead leading to two runs, followed by a Paul Bako throwing error allowing another run to score. Maddux only allowed two earned runs, struck out seven, and the only walk he allowed was intentional. Mike Remlinger came in and promptly gave away any chance the Cubs might have had to come back from 4-0 down, by allowing a 2-run homer to Terrmel Sledge that nearly replicated Corey Patterson's from last night -- it landed only about 20 feet to the right of us.

OK, I feel better now, but really, it doesn't feel good at all. It felt like an ending tonight, even with 26 games remaining. I even said to Howard, in one of my most down moments, "Maybe they can lose enough games to finish under .500." He looked at me like I was nuts, and maybe I was.

With twenty-six games remaining, winning 18 of them is almost mandatory to have any shot at the wild card, and it had better start this weekend against the Marlins. Houston won its 12th in a row today, pushing half a game ahead of the Cubs, though still one down in the loss column. The Rockies blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Giants (to be updated here in the morning), so San Francisco is also now ahead of the Cubs.

Maybe we tried too hard in our section tonight; we had ten of us, including Brian, who probably would have rather been rooting on the Rockford Riverhawks, who were about to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Frontier League championship series (game 3 in Rockford Friday night), and Bharat, who returned (late from a business meeting) tonight and apologized for bringing another loss -- he's 0-3 at Wrigley Field this year. We also had massive Tomato Inning failure (the sixth, a useless 13-pitch 1-2-3 inning), and even failure of the Rally Milano cookies that Howard brought.

Just about this time a year ago, the Cubs lost two out of three to the Expos in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it didn't feel too good then either -- but that was a much better Expos team, a team that finished over .500 and was still in wild-card contention itself in the first week of September 2003. This Expos team needed to be swept, and the Cubs not only didn't do it, but made Montreal look like a playoff team itself.

Well, having spit all this stuff out, yes, I do feel better. All the wild-card contenders except the Cubs and Giants will play tomorrow, and if I were the Cubs, I'd go far, far away from the ballpark, try to brush this one off and come back ready to play a team that's quite a bit better than the Expos. As for myself, I must work tomorrow on my usual day off, and that'll be a good distraction from tonight's disaster.

To finish where I started tonight, yes, we all have invested so much in the baseball team we love, and yes, expectations were ratcheted much higher this year. It's time for these ballplayers, who are capable of so much, to fulfill those dreams and expectations, not only the ones we have, but the ones they ought to have for themselves.