Thursday, October 2, 2008 Updated: October 3, 10:06 AM ET
Bad night has Cubs staring at another wasted year
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- Well, I'll give Carlos Zambrano credit. His head didn't explode. He didn't break Mark DeRosa over his knee like a maple bat. Didn't try to stuff Derrek Lee down the dugout drainage pipe like a piece of used chaw.
As his Chicago Cubs fell into a 2-0 National League Division Series sinkhole, as his team melted into a little Cubbie-blue puddle of Game 2 errors, Zambrano at least tried to do his part. But it didn't matter. Almost nothing matters now, as this series is all but over except for the champagne spray.
"It's hard when your teammates make things difficult for you," Zambrano said. "Like I said, it's not an excuse."
"We didn't help him out much, that's for sure," Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said.
The boos from distraught Cubs fans were heard as early as the bottom of the third inning of Thursday night's game. By then, the Cubs were jockstrap-deep in trouble: down by five runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, unable to field the most routine of ground balls, almost helpless at the plate.
By the top of the seventh, some of those same fans were making mad dashes for the Addison El station, for the parking lots, for Murphy's, Harry Caray's and the Cubbie Bear. And as for those who did stay until the end, they could only stare in disbelief at the 10-3 final on Wrigley's ancient kelly green scoreboard.
"It wasn't good baseball," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "In fact, the last two days, they've probably been the worst two games we've played all year from a walking and errors standpoint. It wasn't fun to watch, I can tell you that."
The Dodgers enjoyed it. They've outscored the Cubs in this series 17-5. They've hit four home runs to the Cubs' one, walked 11 times to the Cubs' four.
"Confidence is low now," DeRosa said.
There is no Billy Goat Curse. No Steve Bartman hangover. The 100-year championship drought is going to celebrate another unwanted birthday -- and all because the Cubs have forgotten how they won 97 regular-season games.
There is no way the Cubs recover from this. They're not going to win the next three games of this best-of-five series, especially with two of those games at Dodger Stadium (and Derek Lowe available for the second of them). If they do, I'll shampoo Ron Santo's gamer toupee.
The NL's winningest team this regular season is about to become playoff extinct. The Cubs can't pitch, can't catch, can't hit. And because of that, they can't advance.
Zambrano deserved better than what he got Thursday night. He might be the first starting pitcher to leave a game trailing 6-0 and receive a standing ovation.
He wasn't great, but he was very good. He should have gotten out of the second inning without a run, but DeRosa botched a double play. Then Lee couldn't handle a sharp grounder. Then Rafael Furcal surprised the Cubs -- and the Dodgers -- with a bunt single for an RBI. Then Russell Martin hit a three-run double. Then well, does it matter?
Carlos Zambrano was mostly well-behaved despite some costly miscues by the defense behind him.
The Cubs are a mess. Their third baseman (Aramis Ramirez), shortstop (Theriot), second baseman (DeRosa) and first baseman (Lee) each committed an error. Their catcher (Geovany Soto) even had trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher.
"No, I'm not surprised," Zambrano said. "I'm shocked, you know. Because we have a good defensive team."
I'm shocked Zambrano didn't throw a big league hissy fit after the error-a-thon. But he didn't. He jumped a little bit after each mistake. He winced. And then he went back to work.
"One of your teammates makes an error, you come back and you pick him up," he said. "I wasn't able to do that. I should have been more aggressive with Martin."
Zambrano blamed himself for the Martin gapper. And Zambrano gave up a home run to Manny Ramirez in the fifth inning. Otherwise, he pitched well enough to win.
The rest of the Cubs played like they had October vacation plans. All I know is TBS's Frank Caliendo has as many hits as Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome in this series. After the latest oh-fer, Piniella announced he's benching Fukudome.
DeRosa is hitting (.429, a dinger, two RBIs), but he was the first to admit the booted double play "killed us I really believe that play changes the game."
It was DeRosa who had told reporters earlier Thursday evening that Game 2 was the pivotal game of the series. "Yeah, I think it's pretty do-or-die," he said. "You don't want to get on that 4½-hour plane flight down 0-2."
The statement ticked off Piniella, who said afterward, "This is not do-or-die." And DeRosa suddenly was predicting the Cubs would return to Wrigley Field next week with the series tied 2-2.
"Stay with us," he said. "We're not dead."
It's a nice thought, but only the 2001 New York Yankees have come back from a 2-0 division series deficit after losing the first pair of games at home.
"It's not pressure for us," Zambrano said, pushing the envelope of credibility. "It's pressure for them to get that last game to go to the next round."
And the Cubs would trade places with them in a nanosecond.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.