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Hardly Worth The Trip

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PHOENIX -- That goes for me, and for the Cubs. I always enjoy seeing baseball, and playoff baseball is rare enough for the Cubs that I wanted to see these two games.

But the Cubs barely showed up here in Arizona, and lost to the Diamondbacks last night 8-4, and I don't have to tell you what that means in terms of them playing baseball deeper into October.

In fact, that anguished sound you hear is the sound of Fox executives ripping their heads off, because the possibility of a Cleveland vs. Colorado World Series looms ahead of them -- which would mean not only two small TV markets, with anonymous (to the general public, not to serious baseball fans) players, but the very real possibility of having several games snowed out.

Hey, they could move the games to Miller Park, right? The Indians have already done that this season.

There were two primary reasons for last night's loss: Ted Lilly had zero command (and I was absolutely stunned that Lou stuck with him as long as he did; yes, I realize it was only the fourth inning, but it was pretty clear even a couple of innings before that Lilly had nothing, one of his rare poor outings this season), and the three big bats that carried the Cubs through September -- Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano -- are a combined 4-for-27 with zero extra-base hits in this series.

Meanwhile, the young D'backs played aggressively, swinging when they should swing and leaving pitches be when they shouldn't (Lilly's four walks and Kevin Hart's two didn't help matters any -- had the D'backs not scored the two extra runs off Hart, maybe being only two runs behind would have made coming back more doable). And incidentally -- who turned Augie Ojeda into Chase Utley? Whoever did, would you please change him back, before Saturday?

Chase Field (including in its previous name as the BOB) has been a disaster area for the Cubs since it was opened with the creation of the D'backs in 1998. The Cubs are 13-26 in regular season games in Phoenix, and now 0-2 in playoff games. Further, although I have been to this park before, I find myself less impressed with it now. They have decided to give in to the trend (also noted in Cincinnati) to have lame twentysomething "hosts" -- here, one male and one female -- introducing the between-innings "entertainment", which is even lamer. One of the "games" consisted of a "Fan Makeover", in which a man with gray hair had his face painted with a Diamondbacks logo. On another occasion, someone went into center field to catch some fly balls hit from a machine. Yes, they do this at Wrigley Field too -- but not during the game!!! How distracting must THAT be to an outfielder trying to warm up between innings? Combine that with the fact that the PA announcer could not be heard above a mumble from my seat down the left-field line (this despite the fact that there were speakers right above the seats; they didn't appear to be working), and that Cub pitching changes weren't announced -- I didn't need those, as it was easy to recognize Cub pitchers parading in from the RF bullpen, but seriously, I've never seen any other team simply ignore the visitors' pitching changes -- and this ballpark experience left a lot to be desired.

I met up with BCB reader zambranofan before the game at Jackson St., the bar a block away from the west entrance to Chase Field; couldn't locate any of the rest of you who said you were going to be there. It was good to see him again -- he's sat with us in the bleachers before -- and we stayed there to stay out of the rain, a fairly strong thundershower having passed through downtown Phoenix just before game time; this is the reason the roof was closed last night.

The only good things to have come out of last night's game for the Cubs:

  • Kerry Wood threw lights-out, at times reaching 97 MPH on the stadium pitch speed meter.
  • Ryan Dempster threw an uneventful scoreless inning in a non-save situation.
  • Daryle Ward came through with a pinch-hit, 2-RBI double, despite the hand sprain he suffered last week (was that only last week??) in Florida.
So, the Cubs return to Chicago, being forced to win three elimination games -- two there, and then one again next Tuesday in Phoenix -- in order to keep playing in the next round. I suppose we could call all three of those "must-win", right? I don't need to tell you the difficulty of such a task. But I also don't need to tell you that the Cubs themselves have been on the other end of such series -- twice -- and failed to win. Coming back to win the Division Series after being down 2-0 has been done four times in the twelve years of its existence prior to this year -- by the 1995 Mariners, the 1999 Red Sox, and in 2001 and 2003 involving the Athletics. And you all certainly remember the Red Sox' stirring comeback in the 2004 ALCS, where they had to win four elimination games, and won the first one of those four after they were three outs away from being swept.

So it can be done; it'll take far, far better play than we've seen so far in this series. But this Cub team has looked this bad during the 2007 season (witness, the series in Florida last week), and followed it up with solid, top-notch performances (the back-to-back shutouts last weekend in Cincinnati a perfect example). Don't lose faith and don't lose hope -- but do remember it will take more than that to extend our October.