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The New House Of Pain

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PHOENIX, Arizona -- With tonight's 8-3 loss to the Diamondbacks at the BOB, the Cubs are now 12-21 in Arizona since the D'backs entered the league in 1998 (and 25-35 overall against them, so this sort of losing isn't confined to the desert).

This includes last year, when Arizona was terrible; the Cubs lost two of three in 2004 and matched that for 2005 with a dispirited effort tonight.

I had a hunch about Ryan Dempster today. No, it wasn't that he was going to give up seven runs, it was that he was going to have a good start. That'll teach me to believe in my own hunches.

Seriously, Dempster wasn't as bad as the pitching line. No, listen. He struck out seven and was ahead of most hitters, and was spotting his slider really well in the first couple of innings. It was his inability to get the last out that cost the Cubs this game.

First inning: first two batters are easy outs. Then he walked Luis Gonzalez on four pitches. This wasn't a terrible idea, as Gonzo has been hot and came into the game 8-for-16 lifetime against Dempster.

Troy Glaus hit a fly ball to right that Jeromy Burnitz... well, Burnitz just misplayed it into a run-scoring triple. Yes, I said triple. The slow-footed Glaus had only seven triples in nearly 3000 career at-bats before today.

Third inning: After two singles, Dempster struck out Glaus and got Shawn Green to ground to first -- but that advanced the runners to second and third, where Jose Cruz singled both of them in.

Fourth inning: Well, it got ugly. Again the first two men made out. Then, Dempster's third walk was followed by three straight hits, whereupon Dusty mercifully yanked him. Maybe "mercifully" is the wrong word, because Glendon Rusch's second pitch was slammed for a 400-foot double off the CF wall, scoring two more runs.

That's all seven runs in the first four innings scoring after two were out, and worse, five of the seven scored after two out and no one on base.

My friend Phil always says you have to "close the deal", and he's right. I don't know if it's lack of concentration, lack of ability or both, but the Cubs seemed totally flat tonight, in both pitching and hitting. Even Michael Barrett's three-run homer off Brian Bruney, which gave the significant Cub-fan minority in the crowd of 26,789 (smallest of the series) its only chance to cheer, and which my friend John said might lead to more damage off what he called a terrible bullpen, didn't do much besides put false hope in our minds.

The two guys sitting in front of me, Cub fans, vehemently disagreed with both of Dusty Baker's pinch-hitting choices tonight and I cannot say I disagree, even though Jose Macias doubled right after Barrett's homer. When Neifi Perez was sent up with a runner on in the 8th, in a spot crying out for Jason Dubois (where a homer could have made it 7-5), you could see the disgust. They left soon after.

John mentioned to me that Chris Capuano, a lefty, will be starting for the Brewers on Friday. Thus, if Dusty holds true to what he told us at the Fan Fest in Mesa a week ago Monday, Dubois should start in LF. We shall see.

Did anything good happen today? Sure! I found my same free, on-street parking space, got out quickly, and tried to turn on the D'backs radio postgame show. For some reason my car radio took over, and wouldn't let me tune another station nor turn it off. This lasted about five minutes till I finally got it to switch to KTAR, the D'backs flagship, and I was home much more quickly than last night.

Oh, you mean did anything good happen to the Cubs? Sure! The bullpen was good again today, even with LaTroy Hawkins allowing a meaningless homer to Glaus; Hawkins, Rusch, Jon Leicester, Michael Wuertz and Cliff Bartosh combined to throw 4.1 innings, allowing three hits and just the one run.

Wuertz again was impressive, settling down after a walk and a hit to get an inning-ending double play. I still think the Cubs may have their closer solution right in-house with #43. Not that they'll listen to me, but I'm going to keep saying it.

A few notes: Before the game I climbed the 164 stairs up to Section 300, Row 33, Seat 5, the worst seat in the house, among the ones the D'backs sell for $1 (yes, you can get in for a dollar). Here's the view from that seat:

As usual, click on photo to open full-size in a new browser window

It's a lot farther from the field than it looks, and it's really hot up there, and I suspect that doesn't change when the roof is open (which it was tonight), because the top rows of seats aren't open to the air -- they're underneath the roof panels.

Finally, I was introduced to a charming young fellow named Harry tonight -- the (about) 12-year-old son of a friend of John's, from Washington, DC, visiting on spring break, and a Cubs fan.

Not only that, he kept meticulous score, even asking me to keep him up when he got up (twice) to get food.

Kind of reminded me of me at that age, actually.

And so, my Arizona sojourn ends, not the way I'd have liked it to, of course. Three games do not make a season, and despite the two losses I still have faith in this ballclub. I'll fly home Thursday, and shall return to Wrigley Field, hope in hand, on Friday.