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Got to start somewhere, right?

No, I'm not going to pretend that somehow, magically, the ship has been righted.

But it feels a lot better to see a win -- even a sloppy, messy, wet one, like last night's 8-3 win over the Reds -- than all the losing, right?

Here's how bad it's been:

  • That's the first winning streak in two weeks, since the back-to-back shutouts over the Nationals on May 16 and 17.
  • They have scored fifteen runs in the last two games. The last time they did that (scored at least fifteen runs total in consecutive games) was the first two games of the season -- and they lost one of those games.
Jeff has been letting his hair grow during this losing month, saying he wouldn't get it cut till the Cubs won a series.

He pooped out on us. Not during the rain delay -- he and I were both going to leave, because it appeared it was going to rain hard all night, but we decided to stay when they started pulling the tarp off the field after only about thirty minutes of a deluge. No, Jeff left in the seventh inning, when it was clear that the haircut was going to have to happen.

See, now we won't see him for a few weeks (he is going to miss the entire homestand against the Astros and Tigers because he must work), and how am I going to get proof? Photographic evidence must be demanded!

One more thing about the rain delay. After it was over, a couple of drunks were standing on our bench. With half the section empty, they didn't stand there long. In getting re-settled, Jeff found himself sitting behind a woman who had short, curly, blondish hair, and was wearing a Reds jersey. I swear, from the back she was a dead ringer for Marge Schott.

I knew she couldn't be Marge, because:

  • she wasn't smoking, and
  • Marge Schott is dead.
Then "Marge" sat on Jeff's foot. I said, in my best Monty Pythonesque voice:

"Poke her with the soft cushions!"

This reduced Mike to leaning over the back railing and dissolving into laughter, the likes of which I don't think I have ever seen.

And that is how we passed the time waiting for the one-hour rain delay to end.

Truth be told, up to then, the game had been flying by -- as if the players had been told that rain was coming, and they'd better get five innings in before it started. They almost made it -- getting to the last of the fourth, with the Reds eking out a run on a couple of hits and a throw that Jacque Jones nearly sent into the TV booth. What is it with Jones? Sure, I know it was just Adam Dunn running (and damn, Dunn is slow -- it took him about an hour to run down Todd Walker's double in the sixth. Dunn will make a fine DH someday), but still.

Contrast that sort of fielding with what Greg Maddux did -- in the first three innings alone, snagging four comebackers. Maddux, in his usual modest way, said:

"Good hops, man. Every one was right there. One of those things."
Yeah, right. Nice try, Greg. Other pitchers wave at those as they go by. I said to Mike, "It's a sad commentary that he's probably the best infielder we have out there."

And he's forty years old.

After the rain delay, Brandon Claussen, who had handled the Cubs pretty easily, walked the first two batters he faced and Jacque Jones cleared the bases with a double into the right field corner. Jones also homered off Kent Mercker later in the game.

Read that carefully. That's two Jones extra-base hits, both off lefthanded pitching. This does not make Jones a great player, particularly off lefties -- he's still hitting only .103/.133/.207 (3-for-29) off them. And his overall numbers -- .279/.317/.481 -- are probably about as good as it gets from him.

I still shake my head at that throw. What was he thinking?

That wasn't even the worst throw of the night. In the fifth, Juan Pierre doubled. Now, that's a bit of news in and of itself -- he has nine of them now -- and then he stole third, drawing a throw from Javier Valentin. A throw that we almost had to duck from in the LF corner, because it sailed about 30 feet over the head of third baseman Edwin Encarnacion.

Another bad throw was made by Ronny Cedeno, which could have ended the game in the ninth -- only it wound up bouncing off the screen in front of the first base dugout.

I can hear it now: "The ball was wet!"

C'mon, guys. Play ball. Measure your throws.

Maddux, for all his fine fielding -- and pitching -- got a little stiff in the dampness following the rain delay, and despite having thrown only 64 pitches to get to two out in the sixth, came out of the game. This was a wise move, and one likely dictated by Maddux himself -- he seems to know exactly when he's done. The bullpen preserved Greg's 324th career win (and first since April 28), tying him for thirteenth place on the all-time list with Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton.

We've joked that this is the reason that Roger Clemens (who has 341 career wins) wants to come back -- he doesn't want to be passed up by Maddux. So far, the reports that Clemens is returning are just that -- reports and rumors, all based on that Newsday link. The Astros deny that it's a done deal -- although if it happens in the next couple of days, Clemens could wind up pitching in the series at Wrigley Field from June 13-15.

Which is also when Derrek Lee might return. Lee will get his cast off today, and start fast-tracking to return. Will this magically transform the 2006 Cubs into a contending team? Of course it won't.

But it'll sure make them more fun to watch.

Note: Mark Prior is lashing back at those of us who question his toughness:

"I want to pitch," he said. "If I can throw the ball over the plate, I want to pitch. I don't care if it's 60 [mph] or 95. I want to pitch. I can get people out, no matter how I do it. I'm not a thrower. I know how to play the game. I know how to pitch the game. People say, 'He doesn't have the desire to come back.' I think it's stupid."
Hmmm. Well, Mark: say all you want, but until you get out there on a major league mound, and get major league hitters out, like you were doing wonderfully in 2003 -- these questions will remain.

Sign seen: in the section next to ours, a guy with a cardboard reading "In Dusty We Rusty". Points for originality, at least.

Finally, today's papers nailed it on the head, I think. In the Tribune, Jim Hendry took the blame for what's happened so far this year and says that spending money has never been an issue:

"I think the last five World Series championship teams have all had budgets equal to or less than ours," Hendry said. "And the years we've been in contention there was never a cutoff for me in July, like, 'Oh, you can't get [Aramis] Ramirez unless they kick back [part of the salary],' or, 'You can't go get Nomar [Garciaparra] unless they pay half.'

"None of that. Last year, even when we were further out [in July] than we were in '03 and '04, if there had been a better deal to make than Matt Lawton, there was no restriction on the dollars I could've used."

Exactly.

And in today's Sun-Times, Rick Telander quotes Ryan Dempster, one of the most articulate and smartest of the Cubs, on why the freefall isn't Dusty Baker's fault:

"I think it's unfair," Dempster said. "Obviously, he's capable of being a winning manager. He's proven that, right? We're missing guys, like our All-Star first baseman. Dusty doesn't play the game. What more can he do?"

Well, you suggest, maybe he could call players out, get real mad.

Dempster shakes his head. "He stands behind us. Every one of us. And he never points fingers."

But maybe he could. Maybe that would help.

"No, no," Dempster says, still holding the cigar box. "You don't need a scapegoat. Physical mistakes are going to happen. Unfortunately, they've happened a lot for us. You just don't want mental mistakes."

He thinks for a moment.

"As much as losing sucks, it's also contagious. All we have to do is the normal things we know we can do. You know, not have guys try to hit grand slams with the bases empty. Me, just do the things I used to do. It would be so nice to turn it around for Dusty."

Exactly, again! And yes. Dempster DOES "get it".