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Good News - Bad News Day!

Good news! Nomar Garciaparra hit his first home run of the season today!

Bad news! Nomar was the only baserunner in the last five innings today, and the last eleven Cubs after he hit the then go-ahead homer, were retired in order.

Good news! Mark Prior struck out eleven today, three called, and walked nobody!

Bad news! Prior also gave up two solo homers and had to be pulled for a pinch-hitter (sigh, Jose F. Macias again) after throwing 117 pitches in seven innings.

Good news! For the second day in a row, a team batted around and scored four runs in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, and it meant absolutely nothing to the final result.

Bad news! That inning was a Reds outburst against Scott Williamson and Ryan Dempster, and took a one-run game and put it out of reach.

Good news! I met loyal BCB reader BJ Simpson today; he stopped by the bench to say hi before the game, and we chatted a bit.

There's no bad news corresponding to that one -- in fact, it's probably a good thing we talked before the game, because I don't know how civil either one of us could have been during the ninth inning.

After that horrendous top of the ninth, I said to Mike, "Isn't there anyone on this team who could take a few bats and bust up the clubhouse?"

His response: "But then the Cubs would just make whoever did it pay to repair the damage."

And that, my friends, is the state of our favorite baseball team, after the third seven-game losing streak of the season, and another absolutely ridiculous loss, 8-3 to the Reds on a very sticky 90-degree day at Wrigley Field. We got a breeze off the lake in the later innings, making it tolerably cool, and the breeze whistled through the rapidly-emptying bleachers in the ninth inning.

We're all disgusted. Listening to David Kaplan on WGN radio on the drive home, he spoke of being in the bleachers early in the game (say! Dave -- if you're reading this, stop on by sometime!), hearing the excited anticipation as the Cubs took the lead on a two-run Matt Lawton double in the second -- the club's first lead since the last game they won, a week ago -- and that was after the just-returned Corey Patterson (Ronny Cedeno was sent back to Iowa to clear a roster spot, which is good for him, because he can play every day) sliced a lovely bunt single down the 3B line.

When Nomar homered to take the lead back in the bottom of the sixth after Ken Griffey Jr. had homered himself in the top of that frame, we figured -- hey, nine more outs, how hard can that be?

We should learn not to count outs. Right?

Even after Jason LaRue (what IS it about Reds catchers -- they absolutely kill us!) homered to give the Reds the lead off Will Ohman -- and this is yet another problem with Cubs relief pitchers; Ohman had LaRue down 0-2, and couldn't finish him off -- it still felt like the Cubs could have come back in the last of the 9th, until that disastrous top of the inning.

This is how disgusted we were: Brian and his friend Jim left after the top of the 9th. Jeff is probably going to do housepainting tomorrow. Mike & I just sat there staring at our scorecards, not even believing what we had written as fact.

The fact is, this team just doesn't have what it takes. It does have talent. There's no doubt about it. But there's no leader -- it's rudderless. Nomar could be a leader, but he's hardly been healthy enough to do so. Derrek Lee is too quiet, and so is Aramis Ramirez. You'd think Michael Barrett, a catcher, a guy who's in on every play, could do so, but he doesn't seem interested.

It'd be awfully easy for the players to tank the season, and I hope they won't. This doesn't feel quite like the 1999 season, when they gave up and quit on Jim Riggleman. Remember, that was a season when never-weres like Micah Bowie, Andrew Lorraine, Dan Serafini and Brian McNichol started games for the Cubs. This team is more talented than that one, and a good measure of Dusty Baker will be what he can do over the last forty-nine games to make the balance of this year respectable.

I happen to believe he can still do that. There were problems with the construction of this ballclub from day one, as we all knew. The bullpen was without a closer -- that's at least partly Baker's fault, because it was made clear to those of us at the Cub Convention that Jim Hendry wanted Dempster in that role, and Glendon Rusch in the rotation. Other pitchers didn't step up, either in the bullpen or in the rotation when Prior and Kerry Wood went down.

Today, I was a bit surprised to find out that the Cubs had actually completed a trade for Mike Remlinger during the DFA period -- acquiring 21-year-old Olivo Astacio from the Red Sox. This is odd, as the Red Sox probably could have waited till the DFA period was over and signed Remlinger as a free agent, and they are now responsible for what's left of his contract. I know nothing about Astacio -- his class-A numbers weren't that good -- but at least there's a body to show for this deal. And that makes five ex-Cubs on the Red Sox -- Remlinger, Matt Clement, Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller and the recently-recalled Jeremi Gonzalez -- so they may be toast come playoff time.

All of this is a roundabout way of purging the really, really bad baseball we've seen at Wrigley Field the last two days.

And I'll say it again -- firing Dusty Baker now, or even at the end of the season, is not the answer to this ballclub's problems.

The answer is for Jim Hendry to sit down at the end of the season, with checkbook in hand, with $40 million off the payroll, and with no Sosa Circus to distract him, and to construct a ballclub that can win. This one wasn't built that way.

I want to win. I don't want to go back to the fuzzy-bunny days of Sammy hitting a home run in another loss like the one today, and the casual fan goes home happy. That never made me happy back then, and it wouldn't now, and the booing we heard in the 9th inning is, yes, something you'd hear in New York or Boston, places that are used to winning and expect to win.

That's the price Cub players are going to have to pay if they don't produce. It's way too easy to fire the manager.

And that won't stop me from heading back to the most beautiful place on Earth tomorrow, in the summer sunshine, and sitting among friends, and hoping, hoping, hoping, that they'll win, and win again the next day and the next and the next ... because that, my friends, is the rhythm of baseball.

Let's not lose sight of that.