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The Little Ball Team That Could

While I was waiting outside the bleacher gate before the game, a long line of old VW Beetles and VW buses paraded down Sheffield and Waveland Avenues.

I learned later that they were part of the Northeast Illinois Volkswagen Association, who had been involved in a PR event for the upcoming Disney movie "Herbie: Fully Loaded", which will be released on June 24. The cars did a stunt for WGN-TV's morning show in their parking lot, about two miles west of Wrigley Field, and were parading around the ballpark on their way home.

It was cool to watch -- there were cars that must have been original Beetles from the late '40s, restored, plus a few VW Buses, which were ubiquitous in the late 60's and early '70s -- one of which I took many rides on camping trips from the summer camp I attended in northwest Wisconsin in that era, and at least one Beetle painted with the "53" on the side like Herbie.

Why am I going on and on about this? Because it was the most interesting part of the day, at least if you are a Cub fan.

The White Sox put on a clinic today at Wrigley Field, showing the Cubs and the rest of the world how they have fashioned a record that rose to 30-12 today, defeating the Cubs easily 5-1 in a game that wasn't that close.

It could have been -- there was a hint of a beanball war in the first inning when Greg Maddux pitched high and tight to Tadahito Iguchi and hit him, and Freddy Garcia did the same to Derrek Lee in the bottom of the inning, but after plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth summoned both managers from their dugouts, nothing else untoward happened in that realm the entire game. I don't think either pitcher wanted such a war to happen, and I don't think this will carry over to tomorrow, either -- but with Carlos Zambrano on the mound, you never know.

The White Sox' first run scored opportunistically, when Derrek Lee, usually so slick at 1B, couldn't handle a sharp Joe Crede grounder and Crede reached on an error. He was sacrificed to second, and then something that's bit the Cubs on the rear end for the last two years happened -- they couldn't "close the deal", as Phil always says, couldn't get the third out, and Scott Podsednik hit a seeing-eye grounder into right for the RBI. Podsednik, who has driven the Cubs nuts ever since the Brewers acquired him (and think about this: he was outright-released by the Mariners. Anyone could have had him after the 2002 season), had two hits and a stolen base today.

Meanwhile, Garcia pitched virtually the identical game he threw against the Cubs in Seattle in 2002; seven innings, one unearned run, which resulted only because Iguchi tried to catch a popup on the run and it bounced out of his glove just in fair territory, and after a groundout, Jerry Hairston singled in the run.

Big deal. The Cubs looked absolutely dead out there -- no energy. I said this to Dave during yet another boring 5-3, 5-3, 4-3 inning and he said: "No energy -- or no talent?"

That's a little too harsh a judgment, I think -- there IS some talent on this team, but some of it (Aramis Ramirez in particular) isn't playing up to the level that it could, and frankly, I'm getting more and more frustrated with Corey Patterson, who plays like he'd rather be posing for Chicago Magazine (as he did two years ago), or be in a disco smoking a cigar trying to be noticed as a "star" (as Brian spotted him doing in Arizona during spring training a couple of years ago), than taking being a major league player seriously. Patterson did have one hit today, but with a chance to actually drive in a runner in the sixth, he popped up, and again in the eighth, he looked at a really nice Damaso Marte curveball for strike three.

I know that sounds pretty harsh -- but look at it this way. Patterson is only a year younger than Ramirez, and no one says that Ramirez is a "prospect". It's time to produce.

Maddux didn't throw a bad game, but he was constantly in trouble and in the Sox' three-run rally in the fifth, he simply could not get the third out with runners on base; if he had been able to do so, he'd have been out of the inning with only Joe Crede's homer as damage, and it'd have been 2-0 instead of 4-0, and that would, as the cliche goes, have been a "whole different ballgame".

The crowd seemed almost half-and-half today, but you'd not have known the Sox fans by their dress -- many of them didn't wear the usual Konerko and other team jerseys. In fact, one of the most prominent ones I saw was a guy wearing a vintage Sox Tom Seaver shirt, standing near us. There weren't any incidents -- I think everyone was just happy to see the sun shine in Chicago after a couple of foggy, rainy days, and I also didn't see any homemade signs, which is unusual for a Cub-Sox series.

Finally, Joe Borowski was activated from the DL today, and Mike Fontenot was sent down, so the Cubs are now with a 12-man pitching staff again. With 20 games in the next 20 days (including today), this does make some sense. JoeBo was greeted warmly and threw an uneventful 1-2-3 inning, though his velocity seemed somewhat low, and the first out was a fly ball to the ivy by Joe Crede. Nevertheless, I do think that eventually, Borowski will work his way back to being an integral part of the bullpen.

We need more integral parts just about anywhere. With Z and Mark Prior going the next two days, the Cubs still have a chance to win the series and send a message to both the White Sox and the rest of the NL that they're not giving up.

So let's not give up, my friends. Keep the faith.

UPDATE [2005-5-20 19:31:28 by Al]: South Side Sox is reporting that according to ESPN 1000 radio, Sox prospect Brandon McCarthy is going to be called up and start on Sunday in place of Orlando Hernandez, who may be headed to the DL.

Guys like this either absolutely handcuff the Cubs, or the Cubs beat the living daylights out of them. Let's hope it's the latter and that Mark Prior is still on his hot streak.