... you heard from Wrigley Field today was the sound of the Cubs' season rapidly flushing down the toilet.
And I can pinpoint for you exactly when it got flushed, too.
It was when Paul Konerko's sinking line drive to center field went in and out of Corey Patterson's glove, with the Cubs still tenuously holding to the 1-0 lead to which Carlos Zambrano's gutty pitching had staked them.
Instead, the White Sox yet again got the timely hit exactly when they needed it. How often have you seen a team get that? Lots of times, I'm sure. But how often have you seen a team get it every single time?
That's what the White Sox did today, and presciently, they got two more hits in the same inning, making the score 4-1 -- and they wound up needing them both when the Cubs rallied to within 4-3.
It was exciting but in the end, just another I'd-tear-my-hair-out-if-I-had-any, frustrating loss, 5-3 to the White Sox in front of 39,461. This was probably the largest crowd actually in the house so far this year; the standing-room area behind the terrace seats was well-populated today, though the back fence behind us in the bleachers wasn't as crowded as I've seen it on other days.
For some reason the boxscore indicated the game-time temperature as 55 degrees -- it was way warmer than that, as it was shorts-and-t-shirt weather, and the scoreboard showed game-time temp as 68, which is likely closer to reality. The sun poked through some high clouds for most of the day, making it fairly pleasant, and though the wind was blowing "in", it didn't affect any baseballs hit this day, and certainly not Jermaine Dye's put-the-game-out-of-reach bomb in the 9th off LaTroy Hawkins, who was once again booed off the field.
Frankly, Hawkins ought to be traded for his own good -- I think he's probably absolutely useless to the Cubs right now due to all that's happened, and if the Cubs are willing to eat what's left on his contract (a little less than $3 million), there would be no shortage of takers. In fact, I'd suggest shipping him back to Minnesota, where they know how to use him and where there might be a hitting prospect or two (their SS prospect Jason Bartlett, who they just shipped back to Triple-A, might not be a bad starting point) who could help the Cubs.
This shouldn't have been this way today. Carlos Zambrano had a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings, despite not having his best stuff -- in fact, having pretty bad stuff, walking the first two batters he faced. He got out of that with a nifty pickoff of Scott Podsednik. In the fourth he hit two batters, resulting in more warnings -- but Z wasn't throwing at anyone, he simply didn't have his command today.
Question: at 108 pitches, if Z still has the no-hitter through seven, do you leave him in?
I think I do, despite the 136-pitch outing a week and a half ago.
In fact, considering what the bullpen did, maybe they should have at least let him start the 8th.
In some ways that's not fair to Mike Wuertz, who was the victim of two seeing-eye singles, one by Podsednik and one by Aaron Rowand, neither of which left the infield, and the ball that popped out of Patterson's glove. Wuertz did get the Sox to hit the ball where he wanted them to, but the defense didn't do or wasn't able to do the job. That left the Sox the opening that they needed to get that hit exactly when they needed it -- in fact, four consecutive hits that sealed the win.
When Patterson dropped the ball, you could feel all the energy just drain right out of the ballpark -- the Coriolis effect has nothing on that feeling. Sure, the Sox fans were happy. And once again, I didn't see any fights or other untoward behavior between Sox and Cub fans -- in fact, a young couple, he a Cub fan, she a Sox fan, sat right in front of us and seemed to be getting along just fine, despite their respective elation and dejection at the results of the late innings.
Give the Cubs credit for not giving up -- two doubles and a single produced two runs in the last of the eighth, cutting the deficit to one, but then Dye's homer made it a two-run game, and Patterson's two-out double and a pinch-walk by Ben Grieve was too little, too late.
So we are reduced to hoping for a salvage job from Mark Prior tomorrow, and it has been confirmed that the White Sox have placed Orlando Hernandez on the DL today and will activate prized prospect Brandon McCarthy to start tomorrow's game.
And after the next eight games we should know if that sucking sound will drain our season completely, or if there is something to be reclaimed. After tomorrow there are seven games at Wrigley Field against the Astros and Rockies, clubs which at this writing are a combined 4-33 on the road.
If the Cubs can't win six of those seven at minimum, they don't deserve to be called contenders.
Sign seen: "Hit A Homer" -- with a very nicely done rendition of Homer Simpson wearing a Cub cap and jersey. Too bad the only homer today belonged to the visitors.