PITTSBURGH -- Just to make it clear, I'm in Pittsburgh -- just arrived -- but the carnage took place in New York, just as it did 40 years ago for the Cubs, this time next door to where Shea Stadium used to be. They've got the sites of the bases and pitcher's mound at Shea marked off in the parking lot, and kids frolicked on them before the game started Sunday afternoon. (Oh, and the towels that might finally get thrown in on the 2009 season, noted in the headline, have nothing to do with certain pitchers who used to do towel drills for the Cubs.)
Anyway, the game began and Mets runners had their own fun on the basepaths, while the Cubs failed again and again and again to bring runners home from scoring position. Sam Fuld reached third base with one out in the first inning, for heaven's sake, with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez due up. A no-brainer run, right?
Nope. D-Lee, after his big day on Saturday, struck out (he was 0-for-3) and Ramirez popped up. The Cub wouldn't come close to scoring until they finally got a run home on a Geovany Soto double in the fifth. That tied the game after Daniel Murphy had put the Mets up 1-0 in the fourth on a solo homer, the Mets' third of the series that had given them a 1-0 lead.
Then A-Ram committed an error on what should have been an inning-ending ground ball, and Murphy followed with an RBI single. The Mets extended the lead to 4-1 when Kevin Gregg.... well, let's just say I personally am glad that Gregg is spending his final month in a Cubs uniform. Why on Earth was he throwing hittable pitches to a pitcher (Mike Pelfrey) who came into the at-bat hitting .089?
That ruined a fine outing by Randy Wells.
Now, how many times this year have I written "that ruined a fine outing by so-and-so"? I haven't counted, but it's way too many. The Cubs' starting pitching has been outstanding almost all year, but too many offensive failures have put this team only one game over .500. Starting Bobby Scales in left field isn't my idea of a lineup choice that inspires confidence -- Scales had only two chances in the field, handling them both perfectly, but went 0-for-4.
The Mets' pair of runs that eventually proved to be the difference in the game scored on a ball that just barely was out of Sam Fuld's reach in center field -- he appeared to turn the wrong way on the ball, and it glanced off his glove for a two-run triple by Murphy. That's kind of what this whole season has been, hasn't it? Missed opportunities, balls that just missed being what we needed them to be.
Et cetera, et cetera.
You all know me. I'm an optimist, I don't want to give up until the math tells you it's impossible. But I'm a realist, too; I can see the eight-game deficit with only 27 games remaining and I know the Cubs would have to go on a 2007 Rockies-like 14-1 run to have any real shot at the wild card.
Can it happen? Sure it can. Is it likely to happen? No, it's not. Oddly, the schedule has the Cubs playing the Pirates Monday, exactly forty years to the day from one of the saddest days in Cubs history, September 7, 1969, when Willie Stargell sent a ball onto Sheffield with two out and two strikes and the Cubs clinging to a one-run lead. That game, of course, was in Chicago; tomorrow's is in Pittsburgh. Perhaps payback time can begin then.
Despite shaking my head at the excesses of Citi Field, I did have a good time in New York and the Mets fans were far friendlier than fans of many other teams. Sunday, I had a seat in the "Excelsior" level (where do they come up with these names?), which permitted me access to the "Caesars Club". Entering it, you see photos that have to do with Caesars Palace, not with baseball; the views are of the NYC skyline, the parking lot, and the Ashe tennis stadium next door. The food was a bit more upscale than the Ebbets Club downstairs, oddly enough -- food was outstanding the entire time.
Too bad the Cubs baseball wasn't. Perhaps Pittsburgh will be friendlier in that way. Till morning -- the game preview will post at 10 am CDT.