I woke up Sunday after a hot, sticky, stormy day Saturday and found myself transported into November.
That's what it felt like on the South Side of Chicago last night -- cold, windy, with nasty little rainshowers that kept poking at us, reminding us how dreary this series was. If that wasn't bad enough, the Cubs played like the weather, cold and dank, in losing 5-1 to the White Sox, completing the sweep of revenge for the Sox' sweep at the hands of the Cubs last weekend.
The Cubs' play matched the gloom and mist and fog that enveloped the Cell for most of last evening. There seemed as many, if not more, Cubs fans there than last year (when the Cubs swept), but there was little for any of us to cheer about; the Cubs weren't really in last night's game despite going into the bottom of the eighth trailing only 3-1, a lead that went from "maybe we can come back" to "forget it" when Jose Ascanio gave up a two-run homer to Jim Thome after retiring the first two Sox hitters in that inning on easy ground balls.
Lou Piniella -- perhaps wisely -- didn't stick around for most of it, getting himself tossed by substitute umpire Rob Drake for arguing a check-swing call on Joe Crede that went the Sox' way in the second inning. Replays showed that call could have gone either way, and Sean Marshall struck out Crede anyway. But by then the Cubs had already blown their best opportunity to get back in the game. Henry Blanco had a terrific at-bat, fouling off three Mark Buehrle pitches after running the count full, and then drawing a walk -- Buehrle was a bit wild early, and Blanco's walk loaded the bases. Ronny Cedeno, with a chance to be a hero and give the Cubs the lead, swung at Buehrle's first pitch and hit a lazy fly ball to center.
Meanwhile, Marshall was nearly matching Buehrle, except for two mistakes: the balls that Carlos Quentin and Brian Anderson hit out of the yard that gave the Sox all the runs they needed. Marshall threw 93 pitches in 7 innings and probably could have come out to throw the 8th; I didn't necessarily disagree with Alan Trammell's decision to put Ascanio in the game, but Marshall might have kept the score to a manageable 3-1, which would have made the two baserunners the Cubs got on base to lead off the 9th much more meaningful. Even at that, if Jim Edmonds' line drive goes two feet higher or to the left or right, it's a two-run double and the tying run would have come to the plate.
But it didn't, and so the Cubs head to the West Coast with their first four-game losing streak of the year. Let me play glass-half-full guy for a moment: the Cubs still have the second-best record in baseball (at this moment, the best record is held by... the Tampa Bay Rays, who moved into first place in the AL East with their win over Pittsburgh and Boston's loss to Houston). They still have a 2.5 game lead over the Cardinals. It's not just the Cubs who had trouble in interleague play -- only the Mets, Braves and Reds had winning records from the NL over AL teams in the just-concluded interleague stretch. The Cubs are heading to play the team with the worst home record in the majors (the Giants are 14-24 at home). And the injured players will begin to return soon, starting with Carlos Zambrano, who is ready to go for his scheduled start in St. Louis on Friday.
It would have helped if Derrek Lee hadn't had such a strange series (two GIDP on Friday, then 5-for-5 on Saturday, then three K's last night), or if Aramis Ramirez hadn't clearly had family troubles on his mind all weekend, probably contributing to his 0-for-13 weekend, and also causing him to miss the first three games in San Francisco.
Creativity points to the woman in my section holding up a sign which read: "CUBS: Enjoying your sentence at the Cell?" (Answer from me: no) And after two relatively peaceful days, fights broke out both in the left field corner and also on the third-base side in the upper deck, perhaps both fueled by too much drinking on a Sunday when fans could party all day before a night game. And to Sox management: there aren't enough restrooms; they can't handle a capacity crowd. Lines snaked far outside the women's rooms most of the night and I missed a couple of batters in the 5th when I got stuck myself in long lines for the men's room (sorry! couldn't wait till the 7th!). While it seemed there were about 35-40% Cub fans in the house all weekend (including Pink Hat Guy, who is normally seen on TV behind the plate at Wrigley Field -- how did I know this? He was wearing a pink hat reading "THE PINK HAT GUY"), we had little to cheer about, and by game's end last night, many Cub fans had left. To the Sox fans in attendance, credit to you too, believe it or not: there wasn't a huge amount of "Cubs suck!" chants in evidence, and the Sox fans actually seemed happier that THEY won that that WE lost -- as it should be, focused on their own team's success. Just as the Cubs have been superb at home this year, so have the Sox (27-11 at home), including a four-game sweep of the suddenly-hot Twins, so I don't think this series is necessarily any indication that the Cubs are in trouble.
Statistical oddity: how evenly matched are these teams? After 12 seasons of interleague play, each team has won 33 games. Each team has won 19 at home and 14 on the road... and the White Sox have outscored the Cubs by one run in the 66 games, 323-322.
Mike summed it up best when we talked before the game. "The circus is over," he said. "Let's get back to baseball." Amen. Till tonight.