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What else can you say about this one? Frustrating beyond belief.

I had just finished saying to Howard, "Jeromy Burnitz is such a smart player", running the bases well and tagging up and getting to third base with one out, after his RBI double made the score 4-3 -- when he got picked off.

Why would you do that? Why would you want or need to take such a long lead off third base? If Todd Walker, the next hitter, gets a hit, you score, and if he hits the fly ball we were all hoping for, you're going to have to tag up anyway?

Burnitz is a standup guy and though I haven't yet seen or heard any interviews or quotes from him on this matter, I'm sure he'll take the blame and admit he just screwed up.

The problem is, there's such little offense being generated by about half the lineup these days, that there is no margin for error, and when you have a runner in scoring position like that, you better damn sure stay there, or score.

The Cubs lost to the Nationals 4-3. That, you likely already know. They did, really, have every opportunity to win this game, and what frustrated me the most wasn't this play (or the long fly ball that Burnitz hit out of the park that was ruled foul -- we all agreed that the umpires got the call right), it was the fact that all four Nats runs scored after two were out, and two of the four scored after two were out and no one was on base.

This shows a lack of focus and concentration on the part of the pitching staff. OK, so the first run was a homer by Jose Guillen (there's yet another power-hitting outfielder that anyone could have had in the off-season after his release by the Angels). But the second run, in the second inning, was produced by two hits, by the seventh- and eighth-place hitters, and that simply shouldn't happen.

Mark Prior, despite those lapses, threw pretty well today. Dusty let him go ten more pitches than his last start (82), and he probably could have gone further. He struck out seven (including striking out the side sandwiched around that homer in the first).

Speaking of sandwiches, I have decided to bring back the Tomato Inning on a full-time basis after its crashing success on Wednesday. If you are arriving late at this discussion, the Tomato Inning was invented by accident last year. Howard had brought me a Jimmy John's sandwich, and while I was eating it a piece of tomato accidentally fell onto my scorecard.

The Cubs scored ten runs in that inning. (Yes, they won the game, smartass. Scroll down to the Thursday, June 10, 2004 listing in that link for details.) So we decided to make it a ritual. We did it nearly every day, and the Cubs would always score in that inning -- they didn't always win, but the tomato did seem to have the power to generate offense.

With Mark's proclamation and gift tomato the other day, I decided to bring it back. Yesterday, Howard didn't get to the game till after gametime, and that is one of the ritual rules -- the tomato must be dropped before the lineups are written. I ask Jeff, or Mike, to hold the scorecard, move it around a little, while I drop the tomato piece.

Today, it landed on the sixth inning.

Bingo! D-Lee home run. Bingo! Todd Hollandsworth home run.

Do NOT underestimate the power of the tomato. That was the start of some offensive production, which got even better in the eighth after some offensive people who had been standing behind us all day, not even watching the game (this is how bleacherites get that bad rap -- in some ways it's come by honestly), left.

I should temper that a little. They weren't that bad, just a bit obnoxious, drinking constantly and the woman of the group had the most annoying laugh. Their biggest problem of the day seemed to be whether they should go back to their hotel before they went out drinking tonight.

After Burnitz' baserunning boo-boo it got worse. Todd Walker managed to hit the fly ball that would have tied the game, then Holly walked, and Aramis Ramirez (who couldn't start but seemed to be OK; I suspect he'll be back tomorrow) pinch-hit, but grounded out. The Nats threatened in the 9th, and for some reason PA announcer Wayne Messmer thought Mike Remlinger was being called in to be the LOOGY when Brian Schneider, left-handed hitter, came up with runners on second and third and two out.

Thus we were excited when Schneider struck out -- if that had been Remlinger, maybe we could have stuck the Yankees with the rest of his contract -- but Howard looked up and saw the "50" on the scoreboard, and lo and behold, it was indeed Will Ohman who kept the Cubs in the game -- just long enough to see two really bad-looking called strikeouts to start the 9th by Michael Barrett and Ronny Cedeno.

Sheesh. On pitches that close -- and they WERE that close -- you've got to swing and try to at least foul them off. If you swing and miss, at least you swung. Then Corey Patterson, who had a nice bunt single and came within about three feet of tying the game (instead, tripling off the CF wall -- and see, I will say nice things about Corey when he does something good), grounded out to end the game.

This was after he had gone down looking, and looking bad doing it, in his first two at-bats, prompting Howard to suggest that I spell "Corey" not as "Korey", as some do, but with a backwards K. Anyone got an ASCII character like that? If you do e-mail it to me!

Corey still doesn't belong anywhere near the leadoff spot, and I still think a couple of days off might do him some good.

Maybe Phil had the right idea. He spent most of the last half of the game on the phone conducting business. To give him grief we kept yelling "Close the deal!" at him.

Enough. A couple of notes: Nomar Garciaparra is in town this weekend, because his wife Mia Hamm is going to be honored before Sunday's game, and is apparently ahead of schedule on his rehab work -- possibly ahead enough that he could return by August 1.

And MLB handed down a 20-game suspension to Kenny Rogers today (and for a pitcher, that means five starts), for the incident the other day in which he attacked a cameraman for the Dallas Fox-TV station. Listening to the postgame today on WGN, the radio talkers were speculating on the cost of a TV minicam, which any good photographer will go out of his way to protect. They guessed $10,000.

Nope. Those things cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, which is why local TV crews have to protect them so vigorously -- they're targets for theft. But more importantly here, the photographer was assaulted, and I hope presses charges, because just as in the hockey assaults that recently came to trial, Kenny Rogers shouldn't be immune from prosecution just because he is a baseball player.

And let us hope that the MLBPA sets the right example and doesn't appeal this penalty. It's appropriate -- and it could be argued, perhaps even a bit lenient.