Friday, May 12, 2006

jumping the shark

this winter, dear reader, when we talk about where it all went wrong, i imagine a great many people will remember today's game against the padres. teams headed in opposite directions -- san diego winners of 11 of the last 12, the cubs losers of 11 of the last 13 -- clashed this afternoon, and a lost year took a sharp turn into the surreal.

some of the cubs worried about the reception that would be waiting for them coming off the team's worst road trip in 35 years, but no one could have predicted that a small, sedate crowd braving horrible may weather could have been so incited to disgust and disillusionment by the day's events.

angel guzman spent the first three innings reminding everyone in the park about how desperate the starting pitching situation has been thusfar. though padre starter woody williams came up limp on the bases in the second and left the game, guzman's pitching -- three innings, three hits, five walks and two runs on 88 pitches -- seemed to ensure that trouble was afoot.

but it wasn't until the san diego fifth that the wheels came off yet again. with glendon rusch on in relief and having already given up a run in the fourth to make it 3-2 san diego, vinny castilla singled to lead off. adrian gonzalez then started the fun with another single to center. ronny cedeno fielded the cutoff to hold castilla at second -- but, bizarrely, cedeno then flipped the ball to third base umpire larry poncino. presumably, a frustrated cedeno believed the ball dead. it wasn't. castilla and gonzalez both moved up one and the rout was on.

after a josh barfield popout, eric young pinch-hit for the pitcher and drew a walk from rusch to load the bases. leadoff hitter dave roberts -- who did so much to help sweep the cubs over last weekend in san diego -- promptly grounded to short, where cedeno flipped to neifi perez to get young. the ball wasn't well hit -- neifi had no chance to get the speedy roberts -- but he threw the ball anyway. it got past a surprised mabry -- error to neifi, castilla and gonzalez coming home, roberts to second to make it 5-2 with two away.

roberts, sensing the disarray, promptly stole third on the next pitch.

mike cameron then stepped back in and lined a double to left. roberts in easily, 6-2 padres. cub catcher michael barrett then showed again the lack of discipline that we've come to expect from dusty baker's teams in barking after roberts -- benches cleared, but no melee. many would suggest that any sign of life from this dying team is a positive -- but barrett's outburst struck this writer as yet another example of the petulance that baker enables so well.

next was slugger brian giles. with order restored, in a manner of speaking, giles singled up the middle -- cameron in to put the punchline to barrett's setup, 7-2 padres. that was it for rusch -- 1.2 ip, 7 hits, 1 walk, no strikeouts, five runs in and a man on first.

reliever scott williamson then came in to take is warmup tosses and did something remarkably strange. williamson clearly did not feel comfortable on the mound -- and with boos raining down from every corner of wrigley, who would? but in a fit of agitation that can only be described as surreal, he called the trainer out to the mound to cut the long sleeves off his undershirt.

the scene is hard to articulate -- perhaps this page will have to rely on game six of the 2003 nlcs to convey the feeling properly. there was a moment in the eighth inning of that game when it became crystalline that the season was over. odd events took sequence with bad play and poor decisions, and the very stars seemed to cross, inverting the world but revealing a glimpse of the future. such moments were in ancient times and sometimes are still by some described in terms of divine intervention. my friend ccd and i left the park that night knowing -- not feeling, not predicting, but knowing -- that game seven would be fruitless. and it was.

williamson standing on the mound having his sleeves cut off was an image of such high ironic absurdity that there seemed little doubt to this writer that the season was over in a way that statistics, however evidenciary, rational and confirming, cannot really ever tell.

of course, the denouement remained. williamson served a single to mike piazza which pushed giles to second. khalil greene -- the ninth batter of the inning -- then drove a ball out to matt murton in left. the hapless murton could but help to commit the third cub error of the inning, allowing giles around to score, piazza to third, greene to second -- 8-2 padres.

these words are written even as the game continues, now 8-4 in the eighth. but it hardly matters. just as the 2003 season had definitely and finally ended that stunning october night in the eighth inning, the 2006 season ended definitely and finally and beyond all hope of reclamation today. whatever doubt may have existed is wiped away, and new ground must be sought for hope.

the only question that now remains to be answered is whether or not this team can recover its senses to avoid a mirthless spiral to 90 losses or worse.

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