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Sweet Caroline

That's the title of an old Neil Diamond song (from 1969, a year about which Cub fans don't need to be further reminded, thankyouverymuch) which is a popular sing-along for Red Sox fans at Fenway Park.

If you've seen the movie "Fever Pitch" you already know this, but Cub fans were introduced to this on Friday, and by last night were singing along -- loudly! -- with the Red Sox fans when the song came on the PA in the middle innings.

That's when Howard said that if we really wanted to make the Red Sox fans feel at home, we should have dug up all the streets around Wrigley Field.

Might as well have done that last night -- it would have been more interesting than watching the Cubs lose to the Red Sox 8-1.

Remember I said yesterday that either Tim Wakefield's knuckleball would work or it wouldn't?

Well, it did. The Red Sox did activate Doug Mirabelli from the DL before the game and any knuckleball pitcher will tell you that having his regular catcher behind the plate makes a big difference in the way he throws.

This came five days after the Cardinals smacked Wakefield all around Busch Stadium, but the Cubs couldn't do a thing with him all night. All they got was a consolation run in the bottom of the seventh, on a Derrek Lee double and two groundouts, after the Red Sox had scored six runs in the three preceding innings. More on this in a moment.

Earlier in the day Al The Media Whore spent an hour with a young and energetic TV crew from Sky Perfect TV, a satellite TV company in Japan which is the official Japanese carrier of Major League Baseball. They're doing pieces on various ballparks and wanted someone to walk them around the exterior of Wrigley Field, showing them the neighborhood, talking a bit about the history of the park and the Cubs. So I'll be on Japanese TV on June 30. If there's a web link available I'll post it here. It was amusing standing next to the young woman who was the reporter in the piece, looking at her as if I were understanding her questions, spoken in Japanese. Then I turned to the producer for a translation and answered.

This all happened between 11 am and noon, and we ended up near the bleacher entrance -- where at noon, five hours before the gates opened, there were already several people in line.

Not even I am that nuts!

When I returned for the actual gate-opening, the lines on both sides were all the way down the block; by 5:20 the left-field bleachers were completely filled, and though I thought many Red Sox fans would skip the Sunday night affair, they were out in just as much force as the previous two days.

During batting practice David Ortiz put on a Mark McGwire-esque show, slamming half a dozen balls way over our heads onto Sheffield, and one that hit the bench in front of me, kicked up some dust, and bounced all the way back onto the field. Then he sat down and didn't get up the rest of the night, because with Glendon Rusch starting, Terry Francona gave Kevin Millar, a Cub-killer from his days with the Marlins, the start at 1B (he went 2-for-4).

Rusch was in trouble from the first inning on -- the homer he gave up to Kevin Youkilis just barely made the left field basket, but Rusch gave up eleven hits and a walk in five-plus innings and wasn't in command at any time, throwing an alarming 114 pitches. Only some good defense (particularly when Jeromy Burnitz hit Derrek Lee in the cutoff spot -- think that would have happened last year? -- and he threw to Neifi! to catch Doug Mirabelli straying off second base) kept the Cubs in the game.

Rusch did have a nice bender working at times, getting several called strikeouts, and was one pitch away from getting out of the sixth down only 3-0 when Johnny Damon slammed a triple scoring two runs. You can argue that Rusch should have been yanked before Damon even came to the plate, or out of the inning on Wakefield's ground ball which might have been an inning-ending double play if it hadn't gone quite so slowly, but it wouldn't have mattered either way, as the Cubs could not fathom Wakefield's knuckleball.

Neifi! tried something different -- the switch-hitter stood in right-handed against the right-handed Wakefield. Didn't make a bit of difference. He did have a single, but otherwise looked silly.

Despite dire predictions of an all-evening rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Arlene, the worst we got were a few pre-game sprinkles and by the time mid-game hit, the setting sun broke through the clouds beyond left field and provided an attractive reddish-pink sunset -- that was nearly the same color as Phil's shirt. We asked him why he wore a reddish shirt when the Red Sox were in town, and asked him to go downstairs and buy another one, but he wouldn't. Gotta take one for the team, my friend.

And can the Cubs now admit that the Great Cliff Bartosh Experiment is a failure? Sure, it didn't mean anything down 7-1, but Bartosh gave up three hits and a walk, including a long home run to Jay Payton, pitching in garbage time. Joe Borowski looked even worse, and topped out on the scoreboard radar gun at 89 MPH. Most of his pitches were in the mid-80's, and the one he threw to Manny Ramirez at 81 -- that was the one that Ramirez hit halfway to Evanston with a man on base, making the score 7-1 and putting the game out of reach.

That's when we were reduced to rooting for Damon, who had doubled, homered and tripled (and got robbed of a hit leading off the game when Jason Dubois made a nice diving catch), to hit for the cycle. The last player to hit for the cycle at Wrigley Field was Mark Grace on May 9, 1993, and the last visiting player was the Cardinals' Willie McGee -- in the famous Sandberg Game on June 23, 1984. Why so long between cycles? Well, Wrigley Field isn't really a very conducive park for hitting triples.

Damon couldn't oblige us. Or perhaps more correctly, Bartosh couldn't. He walked Damon in the 8th, to boos from BOTH Red Sox and the dwindling ranks of Cub fans. But after Payton's homer, Damon had another shot in the 9th -- and flied to right.

Sign seen: outside the park before the game, a guy holding a broom had a sign that said "ESPN: Security Confiscated My Broom". Funny, but why bother bringing the broom at all?

I heard a couple of people, who obviously were enjoying the baseball and the spectacle of it all, planning to "go to Fenway when the Cubs play there in two years." Well -- maybe in six years, because the NL Central is likely to go back to playing the AL Central in 2006 -- Central vs. Central hasn't happened since 2001, and then perhaps the West again in 2007, and then the schedule-makers will probably send the Cubs to Tampa instead of Boston whenever they play the AL East again. We shall wait and see, and in the meantime, let's not dwell on last night's game. If the Cubs win two of every three for a while, we'll all be very happy, and they've done just that over the last thirty games (20-10). Keep the faith.

UPDATE [2005-6-13 9:43:43 by Al]: Idly surfing about, I located this well-written and funny take on the series from a Red Sox blogger. Worth checking out!