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Three Days Before Hiroshima

That's a line from a joke that Mike and I have discussed in the past:

Howard was born three days before Hiroshima. Coincidence? We think not!

(Before you fire off angry e-mails, it IS a joke!)

If you check a calendar of history, you'll realize that a few days ago, Howard celebrated a (mumble-mumble) milestone birthday.

So, in honor of this event, he and his wife and daughter took the Wrigley Field tour late yesterday afternoon. Then, the secret plan concocted by Jon was, to have them "casually" drop in for dinner to the Wrigleyville location of Heaven on Seven, where some of us who are close friends would be waiting for a "surprise" birthday celebration.

The surprise worked. It wasn't one of those "jump out from behind the curtain" surprises -- we were just seated at a long table -- but nevertheless, we pulled it off. Howard was wearing, in honor of Nomar Garciaparra's return to action last night, his blue #5 Nomar T-shirt, and I sat myself at the end of the table nearest the bar so I could keep up on the game action on the bar TV and pass it along to everyone else. There was also a TV at the other end of the restaurant, but the picture had several ghosts on it and it was nearly impossible to pick out what was happening at Shea Stadium.

Those who could only see that TV were grateful, as amidst the jambalaya and the gumbo of Heaven on Seven, the rest of us watched the painful details of the Cubs' sickeningly familiar 9-5 loss to the Mets, dropping them below .500 for the first time since the end of the Marlins series before the All-Star break, where they were 43-44 after a sweep that gave us some reasons for optimism.

While the game recap on the Cubs' website focused on the following defensive lapses during the second inning:

  • Todd Walker's inexplicable choice to throw home on Tom Glavine's grounder;
  • Nomar Garciaparra's attempt for a force at third on the next play, rather than taking the sure out at first;
Both of which helped lead to Rich Hill allowing a pair of two-run singles, which would be the difference in the game.

I'm going to instead talk about the very first play in the bottom of the first inning, indicated on MLB's Gameday play-by-play as:

Jose Reyes singles on a soft fly ball to right fielder Jeromy Burnitz.

A "soft fly ball"? Geez. This was an everyday popup which Derrek Lee, Todd Walker and Burnitz all played, "You take it! No! You take it! No! YOU take it!"

All three of those fielders could have had the ball, but it did drop "softly" between them. This set the tone for the game, as Reyes stole second and was singled in by Carlos Beltran. Even though Aramis Ramirez tied the game up in the next half-inning with his 28th home run of the year, you had the sense that this game was already out of control.

I still don't understand why Glendon Rusch isn't in the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Hill has talent, but he is clearly not ready (ERA now 7.00) for this sort of exposure and frankly, I think he may be more suited to middle relief at the major league level. Meanwhile, Rusch's talents, which shone through so clearly last year when he filled in for the injured Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, are being wasted. Rusch threw pretty well even though his pitching line -- 2 ER in 2.1 IP -- didn't show it. And the rest of the bullpen -- Roberto Novoa, the reactivated Wood and Scott Williamson, and Ryan Dempster -- did shut down the Mets for the last four innings and gave the Cubs at least a chance to get back into the game.

The result of that was Lee hitting his 33rd home run, once again tying Andruw Jones for the major league lead. Big whoop. I want wins, not Triple Crowns, and I hope the TC isn't the only thing we have to root for in September.

I was encouraged by Nomar's play, even though he went 0-for-4. He didn't appear to be restricted in any of his movements in the field, and his removal in the 8th inning, on a double-switch, was likely done more because the game was a blowout, rather than for anything that was bothering him physically. The plan is for him to sit today, and play again tomorrow night.

The loss, coupled with Milwaukee's win at Philadelphia, put the Cubs in fourth place in the NL Central, and sixth place in the wild-card race -- though, incredibly, still only five games back, because Jason Schmidt and LaTroy Hawkins (!) combined on a three-hit shutout of the Astros.

Some will say I have false hope after that, but I refuse to let myself wallow in last night's horrid-looking loss. There's another game, and a chance for redemption, in just a few hours. That's one of the beautiful things about baseball -- that you can make up for your mistakes right away.

That said, this club needs a refresher course in fundamental defense. And now.

Despite the loss, we all had fun and an enjoyable evening at Howard's celebration -- even though, incredibly so, about an hour after we all arrived, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named walked in the door with a female acquaintance. Fortunately, he just sat at a table and watched the game, without making any noise. It's a good thing Jeff wasn't there, or there might have been... well, I'd rather not say.

Notes: Mike Remlinger was DFA'd yesterday. Though he didn't pitch very well this year, I thought he was a classy guy to have on the team, never made excuses, and perhaps the Cubs can pick up a prospect in return for him.

And is this the kiss of death for Dusty Baker? Often, a vote of confidence from a GM is exactly that. I'm not making any judgments here, just wondering out loud.

And speaking of Baker -- can someone please tell him that Jose Macias isn't a center fielder? Put Burnitz out there and give Matt Murton a shot at playing every day for a week or so.

Soapbox over. Let's go out there and win today.