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Wow!

Here's all you need to know about last night's game:

MIKE CAUGHT COREY PATTERSON'S HOME RUN BALL IN THE 12TH INNING!

OK, that's enough. Bye! See you tomorrow!

Seriously, you probably don't want to know too much more about yet another missed opportunity to gain on our pursuers, a long, dark, cold 7-6, 12-inning loss to the Expos, a game that was winnable on any number of occasions, till it came to a very quiet end after four hours and two minutes of less-than-admirable baseball. Oh, and Matt Clement had to leave the game in the third inning with a sore shoulder. Like we need any more injured pitchers.

The day yesterday was one of those crystal-clear September days that you get after the late-summer stickiness has been pushed out by a cold front -- there wasn't a cloud in the sky all day, and it was moderately warm (in the low 70's, though game-time temp was 65) while the sun was still out. This is also the time of year where it becomes difficult to pick up the ball in the late innings of a late day game, or the early innings of a night game, with the sun shining directly in our faces, since our seats face almost due west.

As soon as the sun ducked behind the grandstand, it started to cool off, and did so rather quickly. Luckily, I had dressed for the weather. Jon, who lived in northern California after growing up here in the Chicago area, had a T-shirt and shorts on, and I kept asking him if he was cold yet. By the later innings he said he wished he had a jacket, but didn't mind the shorts.

Also joining us last night was Bharat (pronounced, as he reminded us, like his "namesake" Michael Barrett), another denizen of the Cubs newsgroup, in for a visit from Philadelphia (yes, he lives there, but everyone has to live somewhere, right?). He wound up leaving before the game was over, missing Mike's catch of the homer (and maybe missing getting it himself), but we enjoyed his company and he'll be with us again tonight.

With the wind howling out of the northwest all night, it was not to be a night for home runs, at least not to left field, but someone forgot to tell the Cub power hitters to stop uppercutting the ball. Moises Alou and Derrek Lee, in particular, kept hitting fly balls to left, all of which would have been home runs on any other day, but not last night. Lee lofted three balls that wound up with Expos LF Terrmel Sledge (Mike says he's been waiting all year to write the name "SLEDGE" on his card) actually having to come IN on the ball.

Meanwhile, Corey Patterson was having a fun day, hitting a single and a double before hitting Sheffield Avenue in the seventh inning with his then-game-tying first homer of the game. The wind by then had a slight component going out to right, actually helping left-handed hitters. Too bad Todd Walker, in an early-inning pinch-hitting at-bat, decided to swing at the first pitch and pop up rather than wait for something he could maybe drive out of the ballpark.

The Cubs scored their first three runs when the Expos simply decided to stop playing defense. Brad Wilkerson was charged with an error when he dropped a throw (although it looked to us like the throw was the error), allowing two runs to score and Barrett to third, where he scored on a wild pitch.

But the Cubs simply left too many men on base, sixteen in all, and had chances to win the game in the eighth (runner on 2nd, one out), ninth (runners on first and second, one out), tenth (bases loaded, two out -- this after Neifi Perez, of all people, managed to slap a bunt single past the pitcher), and eleventh (runner on first, two out, after yet another attempt by Derrek Lee to mash a home run through the wind), and this after Mike Remlinger, who normally dispatches hitters fairly efficiently, walking in two runs and leaving to a chorus of boos. Bharat mentioned to us that he had never seen the ballpark this loud, and Mike and I both agreed that the reason is the expectations for this team and the importance of each game, and that the crowds have actually been into the games this year, which has cut down on the number of ejections and stupid drunkenness that has, mainly in our 95-loss-type-seasons, been the norm in the bleachers.

Speaking of the crowd, the attendance was announced as 38,321 (the second-smallest announced paid crowd of 2004), but for the first time all year, there was a significant empty spot in the ballpark, the corner of the LF upper deck, almost half a section of which was completely empty. This won't prevent the Cubs from breaking the 3 million mark, and can probably be explained by schools being back in session and the opponent being the decidedly non-marquee Expos.

Anyway, about Patterson's twenty-first homer in the 12th, which briefly gave us hope of winning again -- the ball started lofting toward us and when both Mike and I realized that it was heading our way, we stood up -- I'm not sure whether to try to snag it, or to get out of the way. It bounced right in front of us and literally into Mike's lap, where he covered it up quite well. We're in the last row and though it doesn't seem that way, baseballs only come up that far maybe once or twice a year, and as Mike put it, this is how long he's waited:

2450 major league games, nearly all in the "line of fire"
1511 Cub games
5034 home runs witnessed

And then he continued:

Still lost.

Finally, Kurt, who runs the Cub Fan Nation, thinks I should be doing more for the team:

[Al Yellon] is the only guy I know of who goes to practically every game. So, it should be his task to bring a sign big enough for Dusty Baker to read from the dugout. The sign should say something like "You'll never win batting Macias second in a game," or "no, really, you just can't win that way for christ's sake!"

Welllllll... first of all, those of you who know me well know that bringing signs just, well, isn't my gig. Second, does anyone really think that Dusty would even look out our way, or listen to obvious advice like Kurt's first suggestion above?

He does happen to be right about Macias, of course. If Dusty insists on playing him, he ought to bat eighth. Or ninth, depending on who's pitching. Derrek Lee has done well batting second. Why screw with that? Macias did actually make a nice effort to try to catch a foul fly ball in extra innings, a ball that Sammy Sosa wouldn't have gotten within twenty feet of.

For my part, I'll stick with the Tomato Inning (it did land in part yesterday right where Wilkerson's error allowed the two runs to score), and stabbing myself with my pencil (I did so again last night, but I think it only works when I actually draw blood), and kicking over my Big Gulp -- say, that hasn't happened in a while, and...

Seriously, right now it's the old Al Davis/Oakland Raider slogan: "Just win, baby". The Cubs still lead the wild-card race by half a game, eventually the other teams will lose a game or two, and again, as we have said several times in the last few weeks, win tonight and all is forgiven.