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A Little History Lesson

Stop me if you've heard this one.

Sub-.500 Cub team struggles through most of a disappointing season; even so, suddenly, with the season winding down and all hope for the post-season nearly lost, the ballclub finds itself 5.5 games out of the wild-card lead, behind four other teams.

You think I'm talking about now, don't you?

No, this is the 1995 Cubs I'm talking about; the date I'm referring to is September 21, 1995, when the 65-69 Cubs found themselves precisely where this year's Cubs are: fifth in the wild-card race, behind the Dodgers, Astros, Phillies and Padres. There were ten games remaining in the season.

What happened next was the one of the most amazing weeks in recent Cub history. They won eight games in a row; one of them was a near no-hitter thrown by Frank Castillo against the Cardinals, and the seventh of the eight was an amazing 12-11 win over the Astros in which the Cubs had to come from behind five different times to win -- this was also the game where a crazed bond trader jumped on the field and tried to tackle Randy Myers.

After the eighth win, the Cubs found themselves two games behind the wild-card leading Rockies (the Dodgers had, in the meantime, taken over the NL West lead), and they needed the Rockies to lose two, and to beat the Astros twice, to force a tie.

It didn't happen, of course: the Cubs lost the final two to Houston, and the Rockies won out anyway.

This does, however, go to show you that in baseball, anything can happen while you are still mathematically alive.

It is in this spirit that TJ Brown, a regular reader over at Ivy Chat was quoted in a Desipio board post, with this detailed end-of-season, series-by-series win chart for all seven teams in the race, which would result in the Cubs winning the race by one game over Houston, Florida, Philadelphia and Washington.

Let it be noted that this post was made on Friday; and since then each one of the series worked out PRECISELY the way TJ posted it, except for the Houston/Milwaukee series, where the Brewers won two of three -- and that wouldn't change the final result.

It would, of course, require the Cubs to go 16-3 and sweep four series (vs. the Reds, Brewers, Astros at home and Pirates), losing only one game to the Cardinals and then no worse than a split of the final series at Houston.

It's a fantasy, a pipedream, right?

Well, so was the eight-game winning streak with ten games left. It created tremendous excitement, and the Cubs even went so far as to print playoff tickets, though they never charged those of us who were season ticket holders; they sent the unused strips to us as souvenirs of the season.

All of this spilled out of me because the Cubs concluded a tremendous 8-2 road trip with a solidly played 3-2 win over the Giants in sunny San Francisco. I don't have the time to look this up, but I'll bet someone will: I cannot remember the last time the Cubs won eight games on a road trip -- ANY road trip.

Glendon Rusch gave up a run in the first inning, but that was it. Another run was charged to him when Mike Wuertz wild-pitched a run in after Glendon was removed from the game. Scott Williamson made it interesting by throwing a wild pitch of his own on a really nice-looking fastball that was about 15 feet outside; there was nothing Michael Barrett could have done about that one, but I felt that Barrett should have stopped the first one.

This is just another example of how Barrett needs to work more on his defense. I believe Henry Blanco would have stopped that first one.

Anyway, all's well that ends well. LaTroy Hawkins was the LaTroy we remembered so well -- giving up back-to-back doubles, scoring the eventual winning run, after two were out and no one was on base.

How nice does that feel to have that happen FOR your team instead of AGAINST them?

Dusty Baker gave Matt Murton a start against a righthander today. Murton didn't look terrific in left field -- he misjudged a ball hit past him, but fortunately there was no impact from the ball; it was a Randy Winn double and it would have been a double anyway. And Murton rewarded his manager's decision by smacking his third homer of the season. He also walked, and frankly, there's no reason for him NOT to be out there the rest of the season. He was double-switched out of the game after Corey Patterson batted for Wuertz. Guess what Corey did?

No, he didn't hit a triple.

No, he didn't walk.

Yes, he struck out, and looked bad doing it. Again. And then, in case you weren't looking, he did it again in the eighth inning. Both my kids were watching and both of them agreed that they could go out there and do that. Corey really is the worst player in baseball right now, and I don't see any reason for him to be in a game at all. I'd say pinch-running, but he got picked off the other night. I'd say "defensive replacement", but he hasn't been that great in that department either.

Sit him down. This club has played itself back into the margins of contention at 5.5 games behind, and there are nineteen games remaining, not ten.

Hang on, everyone. The next three weeks could be a fun ride.

Finally, with the Cubs coming home for their first homestand of September, Mike has some observations on what you might find at the ballpark this month:

(as always, click on cartoons to view full-size in new browser window; if you are using IE, you may have to click the lower-right corner of the image to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image.)