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Howard showed up to yesterday's 6-5 loss to the Phillies wearing the NEIFI! 13 shirt he had had made last year when Neifi was briefly tearing up the league; it was almost a mourning gesture.

I suggested he get a Tigers logo and pin it on the front.

What Would Neifi Do? Well, he wouldn't have done what Ronny Cedeno did in the fourth inning; with runners on second and third and one out in a scoreless game, the choice for ANY shortstop (and of course, Ronny was playing SS only because the Cubs' wonderful new acquisition, Cesar Izturis, had to leave the game with an injury) is to concede the run and get the out at first, especially with one of the worst-hitting pitchers in the game due up next.

WWND? Of course, he would have done exactly that. Instead, Ronny threw home, and threw the ball away, allowing not only the runner on third to score, but the runner on second to race home as well. There is an implied fielder's choice on such a play, and after that worst-hitting pitcher, Jon Lieber, struck out (you could have predicted that, right?) -- which would have ended the inning with only one run having scored -- Jimmy Rollins' HR pretty much ended any chance of the Cubs coming back, although Jacque Jones tried to make it close in the ninth.

Hill deserved better. He once again threw a credible game -- and I was surprised to see that three of the runs were credited as unearned (given that implied fielder's choice), giving Hill a "quality start" -- walking three and allowing only five hits in six innings.

Meanwhile, the Cubs had sixteen hits -- and of course, no walks (I said again to Howard that I am going to start filling out the "BB" column for opposing pitchers with zeroes before the game even starts), and left RISP in the first, second, third, fifth, and worst of all, the eighth inning, when John Mabry led off with a bizarre "triple" that bounced off Aaron Rowand and Chase Utley as they had a scary collision behind second base. But then -- Henry Blanco failed to score the runner, and Cedeno, who COULD have attempted a squeeze, popped up.

Really and truly -- Ronny Cedeno is NOT a major league player. The Cubs must, MUST look elsewhere next year, not only for a starting 2B, but for a utility infielder (if Ryan Theriot isn't the guy). And when Freddie Bynum came in at 2B to replace Theriot (who had replaced Izturis) after pinch-hitting, I said to Mike, "This is perhaps the worst double-play combination in the history of the franchise."

He said, "What about when Jeff Kunkel played SS?" (Which, incidentally, he did only six times.) I replied, "But Ryne Sandberg was at 2B then!" His response: "Kunkel was so bad he dragged Sandberg down!"

That wasn't really true, of course, but gave us a few laughs on an otherwise again-depressing evening on which the Cubs, who Mike & I agree have absolutely no margin for error, went far behind early and had to play catchup for about the billionth time this year. Even with all of that, Jones' HR in the 9th would have tied the game had Roberto Novoa not come in and given up the Phillies' sixth run. Will Ohman (who must have been lurking around Neifi's locker, because he scarfed up Neifi's #13 -- a number he wore before Neifi's arrival) threw a credible 9th inning.

And that was it. We celebrated Mark's birthday -- here's the scoreboard greeting I got for him:

(as always, click on thumbnail 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 in the new window to expand it to its full size; in Firefox click anywhere on the image. Note these are fairly large files and may take some time to open.)

... and we all demolished one of those large, pan-size cookies that you can have decorated; I got "Happy Birthday Mark" on it, along with some baseball-themed stuff including a baseball, bat and hot dog done up in frosting; Jeff was doing weird things with the hot dog. No, you don't want to know. We had so much cookie that we gave some away to some people standing in the aisle behind us, who had been eyeing it all game.

Finally, T-shirt seen: two women wearing shirts reading: "We Love The Cubs, But We Are In Love With Pat Burrell's Butt". Mmmm-kay.