Man, how appropriate.
The last game of the year. The last game in the bleachers as they are currently constituted; I've been to 1695 games in Wrigley Field, and I estimate more than 1500 of them are on that little bench in right field.
And what happens? The last two innings are played in a pouring rainstorm, and just when you think the Cubs are going to pull the game out with a stirring ninth-inning rally, they load the bases with nobody out and it's followed by two strikeouts and a popup.
There, my friends, is the 2005 season in a nutshell. In fact, it's pretty much our lives as Cub fans in a nutshell.
The Cubs lost to the Pirates 3-2 this afternoon, ending a season in which they had a horrid 38-43 record at home. In fact, when we started talking about season highlights, Dave said he couldn't think of a single one at home.
Now, Dave came to about half the games so maybe he missed something, but you know what? There really wasn't a defining game at home. I can recall two walk-off homers -- one by Corey, one by Derrek Lee -- but those were in April and May. There were a couple of well-pitched games, three one-hitters by Cub pitchers, but I suspect the only true "highlight" of the year was Greg Maddux' 3000th strikeout, unless you count the wonderful season that Lee has had, and that's not a "highlight", that's a season in review.
Which we had today. There was a little bit of sunshine early on, but the clouds lowered, there were a few brief showers during the early innings (Mike got an extra-long lunch break from work so he could attend the final home game, which was on a weekday for only the second time since 1983 -- the other time being in 2000), until the skies opened up for good in the 8th, and at this writing it's still raining pretty hard here in Chicago, the hardest and steadiest rain we've seen since, well, since Patterson and Lee were hitting walk-off home runs.
Mark Prior threw 97 pitches in five innings, and that's pretty much all you have to know about his last start of the year. He, too, loaded the bases in the first inning -- though with one out, not none -- and got out of it. Prior struck out seven (and the staff combined for fourteen K's), but walked four, and though I think he had a decent season considering his two injuries, he needs to work on his command and control before he returns to his dominant form of 2003. The last run he gave up was Nate McLouth's second home run in as many days -- and come on, the guy came into this series hitting .230 in 87 AB with one home run. That was the decisive run, even though Jose F. Macias managed to muscle his first homer of the season onto Waveland Avenue, and it didn't need any help from the wind.
Speaking of which, we discussed briefly whether the bleacher expansion might affect wind patterns. This is something ballpark architects rarely consider when they do renovations; the reconstruction of the upper deck at the Cell turned it into a launching pad, which is, I think, something they didn't expect.
Even though the height of the bleachers in RF and LF may be raised by only 20 feet or so, I believe it will have some effect, however small, on days when the wind blows in. This may cause the ballpark to become slightly more a hitter's park, and if that is indeed the case, the off-season acquisitions need to be adjusted accordingly.
It was a mournful, yet funny, day. Some of the employees came by and told us, "Demolition starts in the second inning." It won't start tomorrow, either, but I expect it will in the next couple of weeks, and as I don't live too far from the park and often drive by there on various errands, I will check from time to time and bring my camera.
During the rain delay Howard brought out his pink poncho -- at which time we were surprised to see Dave with an orange one and Brian's friend Jim with a yellow one. We figured we were only one short of having a full set of Teletubbies. Never mind who's supposed to be who!
Dave asked me who I thought, among the players on the field today, would be in next year's Opening Day lineup. Frankly, I think there's only one guaranteed to be there -- Derrek Lee. I still hope that something can be worked out to keep Nomar, and Dave agrees, because he's been at quite a few games since the Riverhawks season ended, and he says Nomar is beginning to look like the Nomar of 2001-2003. Why not take advantage of a hitter like that?
It's fitting, isn't it, that Corey Patterson's final at-bat at Wrigley Field this year (and maybe ever) was a three-pitch strikeout. He may be the hitter's Kyle Farnsworth -- a guy with tremendous talent who simply has too much Cub baggage to ever be successful here. That being the case, Jim Hendry is obligated to try to get as much value as possible. At the same time, Dave reminded me that the talent he does have, may mean that someday, he'll realize it, and then we'd all kick ourselves if he did it somewhere else.
But right now, I wish him well in another uniform.
So, we end another non-championship season, and when we all next enter Wrigley Field's bleachers next April, our old stomping grounds will look quite different. My other friend Dave took quite a few photos today, and I'll post some of them as soon as he e-mails them to me.
It was too rainy to stay around too long and linger after the last game, as is our usual wont, and security seemed anxious for us to vacate, so I took one last look at baseball's most beautiful field till spring, and patted the bench on which I've seen so many hundreds of ballgames, and said so all could hear...
And then I walked down the stairs before the tears that I could feel beginning to come out, could come to fruition.
I want to save those for tears of joy over a championship.
And it will come, my friends. Have faith and patience.