Sunday, October 12, 2008

2008 Playoffs: Requiem for a Choker

Part One: My Laziness Saved Me

First, a story.

I shouldn't have even been at Game 1. But, my workday on Wednesday started with this email from my boss:


From: (boss name redacted), Joan E.
Sent: Wednesday, October 01, 2008 8:51 AM
To: MPF; (coworker name redacted), William
Subject: Cubs Tix?

Mike/Willy -

I have two sets of Cubs Tickets for purchase if you are interested,
one is for Wednesday and one set for Thursday night and they are

Let me know if you are interested.



A couple things to know: I won a lottery to buy tix thru the Cubs earlier, so TM and I already had tix to Game 2. And, face value for tix start at 30-something for standing room, 60-something for bleachers and get higher from there. So that's a great price.

So I said yes to Game 1 and get sent to the secretary holding the tix. She tells me where they are and then says, "And make the check out to Tribune Company." (owner of the Cubs) I said, "You won't take cash?" She said, no, the note on these said check only.

Who brings their checkbook to work on a regular basis? Maybe women if it happens to be in their purse, but not men. There's a Chase ATM in the lobby of the building, but it wouldn't do any good. It has to be a check.

So I'm screwed. Except.....

....except the night before I'd looked at my checkbook and realized I hadn't filled in the running total in the check register for several entries. I like to keep it up to date.

But I was feeling lazy, so I said, ah, I'll just do it tomorrow at work when I'm bored, so I threw my checkbook in my work bag. (I also wrote a check for my co-worker Willy, who of course didn't have his checkbook at work.)

We sat in Section 206, left field line. I would describe the mood in the park as hopeful yet reserved. Part of it almost certainly was the early start: 5:30 local time. I had to cut out of work early to come home and change clothes, and we barely made it to the park in time. Part of it could have been that so much was expected of the Cubs: Best record in the NL, first NL team to clinch, and that whole 100-year thing. Maybe the crowd just didn't have time to get drunk or at least buzzed, or maybe they were too nervous to get drunk 'n' noisy.

I think only two good things happened that night, and both happened early. One, I discovered our seats were next to my friend and co-worker Charlie. Two, Mark DeRosa hit a two-run homer in the third.

Other than that...Dempster* was wild. He had more walks than innings pitched. He did manage to get one over the plate to Manny, which Mort warned he shouldn't do:

You rock, MPF. Have a blast tonight. If the Cubs give Manny anything to hit it'll be a big mistake. Walk him every time. Just like what the Brew Crew should do against the Phillies now that Ryan Howard doesn't have Pat Burrell to protect him. ...

The big BUT (in Mort's prediction of Cubs and Angels winning their series--ed.) lies on the home team winning Game 1. If the Red Sox and Dodgers win Game 1, that will make a huge change in the final outcome. Also, if the Cubs decide to pitch to Manny instead of walk him every at-bat (kind of like what the Brewers need to do against Howard), then things will change.

Make sure that pile of salt is right outside your front door.

I guess Mort shoulda told Dempster, not me. But by the time of the Manny homer, the wildness had pretty much put the game out of reach, psychologically if not logically. Final: Dodgers 7, Cubs 2.

Game 1: Cubs (click on any scorecard for larger version)

Game 1: Dodgers

The official Game 1 box score is here.

Part Two: Errors in the Infield

We sat in Section 229, under the overhead along the first-base line. The fans were a little louder Thursday than Wednesday. I'm sure the later start time (8:30 pm) had something to do with it, but also a recognition that we had our ace going, and if anyone could shut down the Dodgers and get this thing to 1-1, it was Big Z. But when the second inning happened, I think the die was cast.

In 1984, the first NL East title for the Cubs in the divisional era, Chicago had a squad nicknamed "Animals in the Infield." The players were Leon "the Bull" Durham, Ryne "Ryno" Sandberg, and Ron "the Penguin" Cey. (As I recall he was squat and pudgy like the bird. I dunno if shortstop Larry Bowa had a nickname. The "boa," I guess.)

Well, in Game 2, the Cubs had errors in the infield--at all four positions. First off was DeRosa in the second inning, letting a grounder through. It sucked, but not a fatal error. Very next batter: D Lee flubs a grounder and can't recover in time. Those would have been outs two and three; now it's one out, bases loaded. Big Z strikes out the pitcher, but the next two batters (Furcal and Martin) single and double, respectively, bringing home four runs. Whatever air was left in the Friendly Confines escaped at that point. Down 1 game to zero, and 5-0 in the top of the second...this team just wasn't prepared for that.

Not to be left out, Aramis "No Cool Nickname" Ramirez (3B, 4th inning) and Ryan "The Riot" Theriot (SS, 9th inning) made their own errors to complete the sweep. The Cubs made a futile attempt at a comeback with one in the seventh and two in the ninth, but by then it was too late. Final: Dodgers 10, Cubs 3.

Game 2: Cubs

Game 2: Dodgers

Game 2 box score here.

And, they went out to LA, and of course the Cubs played a little better with Rich Harden* on the mound, but still not good enough. A 3-1 loss and the season was over.

I don't know if I have any answers for what happened. The team I saw in Game 1 and Game 2 was not the team I followed over the summer. The big bats that could crush anyone into submission went silent. The most reliable pitcher at Wrigley couldn't find the plate with a map and a flashlight. The one guy you expect to stop a slump (think Pedro in the late '90s for Boston) was victimized by errors and couldn't recover. Most damning is all the money wrapped up in the salaries of Sorryano, Ramirez and (cringe) D Lee, all of whom could not deliver a clutch hit (or even a meaningful hit) to save their lives. I never thought I'd say this, but: where have you gone, Moises Alou?

So now it's watching the playoffs on TV with general apathy, sorta rooting for the Dodgers cause they got a kid from Iowa. Maybe someday we'll go all the way, Eddie. Just not in 2008. So for my final words on the 2008 Cubs, I shall quote Harry: "So long, everybody."

*-a Canadian. I need to justify the "Canadians" tag.

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