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This doesn't refer to my jury service Monday, because I didn't get chosen to serve. I basically spent the day in a courtroom with about forty other people, all of us were questioned by the judge, and without revealing any details (because we were all asked not to), I'll just say that I wasn't chosen.

I was paid $17.20 by Cook County (that amount hasn't been raised in at least twenty-three years, because that's precisely what I got the first time I was called for jury duty in 1982), $6 of which went for lunch. At least they give you free parking.

That done, on an unseasonably warm (84 degrees at game time) September evening, I went with hope to Wrigley Field, to see if the Cubs had a September miracle left in them.

Case closed, my friends. My one day of unreasonable hope ended at the hands of the really awful Cincinnati Reds, who defeated the Cubs for the eighth time in thirteen meetings this year, 5-2, in a game that was much closer than that.

Greg Maddux will now have to win all three of his remaining starts to get to fifteen. And don't think he's going to get another one squeezed in by skipping someone's turn -- he said after today's game:

As far as I'm concerned, I've had my chances and I still have a chance, too. I mean you got to play the game the right way. I just want to get ready and pitch in five days and do what I can to throw a good game.
Which is, in my opinion, the right way to play baseball.

Maddux did, in fact, throw a very good game Monday night. He made exactly two mistakes, back to back to Javier Valentin (who absolutely kills the Cubs), and Wily Mo Pena.

Still, Maddux kept the game close till he was lifted after seven innings for pinch-hitter Jeromy Burnitz (who sat, according to Dusty Baker's radio show, because he's "slumping") -- should have left him on the bench; he struck out swinging and looked bad doing it.

Jermaine Van Buren came in and couldn't hit the strike zone, even though Henry Blanco went to the mound twice to try to show him where it was; he got lucky because for some reason, Ryan Freel decided he wanted to try to steal third against Blanco, who threw him out easily.

Yet another reason that Blanco ought to get more playing time. Dave, whose Rockford Riverhawks were eliminated from the Frontier League playoffs on Saturday, came to the game and said that Blanco might have been the Cubs' best off-season pickup. I agreed, though that also says quite a bit about the rest of the off-season pickups, too.

Dave, Howard, Mike, Jeff and I spent a lot of time discussing what the Cubs could do in the offseason. Consensus: Nomar Garciaparra, who had three hits and raised his season average to .287, ought to be re-signed to play left field. Then, you could live with Jerry Hairston in CF if you go out and sign (or trade for) a power bat in right field. Hairston once played for Dave when Dave coached a semi-pro summer team in this area, and Dave said Hairston has really impressed him in the last month with how hard he's worked to become a good outfielder. He's not great, but he is at least adequate, which was certainly not the case when I first saw him play in spring training, where "terrible" is the first adjective that comes to mind.

After Matt Murton homered for the Cubs' first run (his fourth of the year, to the opposite field, no less), I asked Dave if he thought Murton could be that RF power bat. He says no -- but Murton has the four homers in 76 at-bats, implying that he could eventually develop into a 20-25 HR guy, just as we discussed here the other week, someone like Paul O'Neill was for many years with the Yankees.

We'd all take that, I'm sure. Murton, for his part, will definitely start the next two games for sure; lefty Eric Milton will go tomorrow, and the Reds have just pulled righty Luke Hudson from their rotation and lefty Randy Keisler will go on Wednesday.

Monday's game was eminently winnable, even after Will Ohman decided to do the old bugaboo -- put runners on base (via walks, AARGH!) after retiring the first two batters in the ninth.

Then Sergio Mitre came in.

Why is this? If Dusty Baker, Mr. Play-The-Veterans, was really serious about "hope", why wasn't Roberto Novoa in this game? He didn't throw yesterday.

In any case, Mitre somehow managed to get two sliders past Pena, and in unison, Mike and I said, "Do NOT throw him that pitch again!"

Naturally, he did. It was a Hawkins, sitting right there for Pena and he smacked a three-run shot to almost the precise spot where he had hit his first homer.

As many of us thought back then, Mitre should have been traded right after those two amazing back-to-back starts he made in June. Frankly, he's not a major league pitcher, and maybe it's better the Cubs find this out now, while he's still dealable in the off-season.

Game thus over -- the Cubs' consolation run in the last of the ninth notwithstanding, and I think we can safely assume that run likely wouldn't have scored in a 2-1 game. Aaron Harang, the Reds' best pitcher (and that's not saying much), now has three wins against the Cubs this year, of his ten total wins.

Despite the fall approaching, the nice weather brought out approximately 30,000 of the 37,926 announced paid crowd. Several people who were originally up in the Bleacher Party area under the scoreboard, had blocked out a number of seats and asked Jeff & me to save them while they went and got their free food & drink. For doing this they brought us some free drinks, and then they all decided to stay there anyway.

This was nice for me because I'd knocked over my Super Big Gulp right after getting through the turnstile. Howard was nice enough to stop and get me another one, but the "spill Al's drink, Cubs win" superstition has apparently gone by the boards -- it hasn't worked a single time this year.

And thus, another attempt at going back into contention rapidly goes down the drain. The Cubs lost only half a game in the wild card race, if you are still keeping track, because the Marlins' win over the Astros put Florida on top, for today.

The Cubs also announced today that the HBP that Ronny Cedeno suffered on Saturday gave him a hairline fracture that will, unfortunately, end his season. So, we'll have to wait till spring training for Cedeno to make his case to start at SS in 2006. The Cubs "bought the contract" of (i.e. added to the 40-man roster) infielder Ryan Theriot from AA West Tennessee.

And, the Cubs website saved me the trouble of looking up the last time they went 8-2 on a road trip; it was Sept. 6-15, 1993. They also lost only two games in California this year, going 9-2 there. That's the first time they've lost fewer than three games in California in a single season since the NL first moved to California in 1958.

Ultimately meaningless, but a positive stat anyway. Maybe the Cubs could put some palm trees in the bleachers or something.

Finally, if you're looking for a fun, non-Cub thing to do tonight, and you're going to be on the north side of the city, Warren St. John, the author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, the book about rabid Alabama football fans, is having what he terms a tailgate party (with free beer!), book reading and signing, Tuesday night at 7 pm at The Book Cellar, located at 4736 North Lincoln in Chicago. It's sponsored by the Four Moon Tavern; for more info call 773-293-2665.

Me, I'll be at Wrigley Field. As always.