... it wasn't going to be the Cubs' day about an hour before game time.
I was waiting to meet Dave, who had an extra ticket (so I could sit in the lower deck -- I wound up in the LF bleachers, same place I'll be tomorrow and Sunday -- rather than somewhere near the low-flying Southwest aircraft from Midway Airport), and I needed to use the men's room.
The Cell actually has restrooms (not portapotties) that you can use that are outside the main entrance. I went into one and was immediately surrounded by Sox fans. There was one Cub fan in there, and when he left without washing his hands he was roundly derided by the Sox fans inside.
I think they were kidding.
It went downhill from there. The Cubs lost to the White Sox 6-1 in a game that wasn't that close.
Greg Maddux, it was clear in the first inning, wasn't getting balls and strikes called to his liking by plate umpire Larry Vanover. Uncharacteristically, he started to pull a Z -- stomping around the back of the mound a little, and he wound up throwing almost thirty pitches in the inning. He was lucky to get out of it with only one run scoring, and the Cubs had manufactured a run in the top of the inning on -- well, some nice playing, actually; an infield single by Juan Pierre, a sacrifice on which A. J. Pierzynski made an error, allowing Jerry Hairston to reach, and a Todd Walker sac fly.
With Maddux and Mark Buehrle on the mound, it figured to be a tight game into the late innings.
Maddux still wasn't near the plate in the third inning, loading the bases on two walks and a single, and as quick as one of those Midway planes takes off, with a Paul Konerko single, a Jermaine Dye sac fly, and a single by Joe Crede, it was 5-1 and over. The Jim Thome HR (his 17th, and Mike reminded me that Thome has no multi-HR games this year, which means he's homered in almost half the White Sox' games) was just an exclamation point on this otherwise fairly dull game.
Glendon Rusch threw 2.1 innings of shutout relief; at best, that's a confidence-builder. I watched the pitch-speed meter on the RF scoreboard -- of his 48 pitches, he hit 90 MPH maybe twice.
Now, Rusch has never been a fireballer, but if he can't throw 90, one of two things is true: either he's got nothing left and he's done, or he's hurt and isn't telling anybody.
Neither one of those choices is a very good one.
SNT (Stupid Neifi Trick) for today: in the sixth, Pierzynski hit a ball up the middle that Neifi made a stop on. He had absolutely no chance to throw even the slow-footed Pierzynski out, but decided to throw to Maddux covering first. Or, I should say, near Maddux, because it got thrown away for an error. No runs scored as a result, but really.
About the atmosphere at the Cell: it felt different from previous Cub/Sox series. Despite being sold out, there had to be at least 3 or 4 thousand empty seats, scattered about. Maybe those were held by Cub fans who decided not to come; the crowd, which at past Cub/Sox games at the Cell has been about 1/3 Cub fans, was overwhelmingly a White Sox crowd today -- likely due to the increased number of Sox season ticket holders. Or maybe it was the coolish, rain-threatening weather. But the number of anti-Cub signs (I saw "Baseball's Champs vs. Baseball's Chumps", how original, and a riff on the old "Completely Useless By September" that read "Completely Useless By Summer". Guys. You need new material!), and anti-Cub chants, were down from a year ago, though Mike said he heard a number of Sox fans yelling "Nineteen-Oh-Eight" in the way that Yankee fans used to yell "Nineteen-Eighteen" to visiting Red Sox fans at Yankee Stadium.
Dusty Baker even used the right lineup today; he started Henry Blanco, who had 2 HR in 12 lifetime AB vs. Buehrle, and gave Michael Barrett the DH slot (I noted some criticism of this in the game thread, claiming it was dumb because that takes away your backup catcher. No; all it does is force you to pinch-hit for your pitchers if you must put Barrett in the game, which you'd only do if Blanco were injured), and benched the 1-for-27 lifetime vs. Buehrle Jacque Jones, in favor of Hairston in RF.
Didn't matter. Buehrle was like a buzzsaw; he threw 105 pitches (74 strikes) in his complete game, and only ten balls left the infield (nine flyouts, and Ronny Cedeno's single up the middle in the seventh), and at one point he retired eighteen of nineteen.
I don't have much more to say. The difference between the two teams was pretty obvious today -- the Cubs did have a chance to break the game open in the first inning and didn't; when the Sox had their chance in the third, they pounced on it.
Tomorrow's matchup appears to be a mismatch, especially considering that Freddy Garcia has "owned" the Cubs dating all the way back to his Mariner days, but as Dave pointed out to me, Garcia's been inconsistent so far this year.
It's hard to be optimistic after a game like this. But that's one of the best things about baseball -- after a stinker like this one, you don't have to wait a week as you do in the NFL to play again. You can go out and win the next day.
Best I can do for tonight, everyone. Till tomorrow.