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Friday, October 3, 2008
Cubs doomed not by curses, but themselves

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- With apologies to Franklin Pierce Adams …

These are the saddest of possible words,

Grounders to DeRosa to Lee to Ramirez to Theriot

Quartet of bear Cubs suddenly as klutzy as nerds

Grounders to DeRosa to Lee to Ramirez to Theriot

Thoughtlessly kicking away grounders they should gobble

Turning Dodgers outs into E-4 bobbles

Infielders weighty with the postseason wobbles

Grounders to DeRosa … to Lee … to Ramirez … to Theriot ….

Adams wrote "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," i.e., Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, way back in 1910, and as long ago as that was, it already was more recent than the Cubs' last world championship. This autumn was going to end that drought, though. This was the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' last world championship, and the team and their fans were going to celebrate it by not only going to the World Series for the first time since 1945 but also winning it for the first time since 1908. This was the autumn there might even be an all-Chicago World Series for the first time in 102 years.

Instead, it's been traditional Cubs baseball all over again.

Desperately needing a victory against the Dodgers to keep from going down 2-0 before hitting the road in this NLDS, the Cubs played a game that surely ranks among even the worst losses in team history, which is saying something. They not only trailed by nine runs at one point, but they somehow fielded for the cycle by making an error at first, second, short and third, with two of those errors coming consecutively in a disastrous five-run second inning. And starter Carlos Zambrano likely could have had an error at pitcher if it hadn't been for a terrible umpiring call after he bobbled a ball in the sixth.

"The last two games, they've probably been the two worst games we've played all year from a walking and errors standpoint," manager Lou Piniella said after the 10-3 loss. "It wasn't fun to watch, I can tell you that."

You know, Lou, I think the fans already knew that.

Fans were disgusted, and they left so early you would have thought the game had been played at Dodger Stadium, not Wrigley Field. Those who stayed booed loudly, particularly whenever right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, the darling of the club early in the season, flailed at the plate. These are not the cute, pleasantly drunk Cubs fans of the past. That all disappeared after the Bartman game. These are passionate, yet impatient and increasingly bitter, fans who desperately want a payoff for their decades of devotion.

In other words, they're becoming like Red Sox fans were before 2004.

"Why do you guys want to talk to them?" one fan said as he passed the line of reporters waiting outside the Cubs' clubhouse after the game.

"Ask Lou why they sucked so much tonight," another suggested helpfully.

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"Ask him why he didn't take Fukudome out," another offered.

Well, actually, that last issue was addressed. "As the game went on," a reporter asked Piniella during his postgame press conference, "Fukudome continues to struggle… " He wasn't able to complete the thought because Piniella snapped, "From now on I don't want to hear about Fukudome anymore as far as whether he's going to play or not. I'm going to play [Mike] Fontenot or Reed Johnson or somebody else, and that's the end of the story. The kid is struggling and there's no sense sending him out there anymore."

As bad as Fukudome has been at the plate -- 0-for-8, four strikeouts -- he's had plenty of company. The Cubs have scored five runs, four of them driven in by second baseman Mark DeRosa. And it's not like DeRosa was feeling good about his fielding performance Thursday.

"You can't win like that, especially in the postseason," DeRosa said of the errors. "We can't keep putting traffic on the bases. Their lineup is strong, and allowing them to get to Martin and Manny and Ethier, we just can't do it. I really feel the whole complexion of the game changed on that one play."

DeRosa was referring to his error in the second inning, and he just might have been right. With one out and runners on first and third, he bungled Blake DeWitt's grounder, allowing the game's first run to score. First baseman Derrek Lee then bobbled Casey Blake's tough hopper, loading the bases. Zambrano was able to strike out Chad Billingsley, but Rafael Furcal brought in the second run with a bunt single and Russell Martin broke open the game with a bases-clearing double.

If the Cubs just make the simple plays, they're probably out of the inning with the game still scoreless. Instead, they trailed 5-0 and never got any closer.

Hard to believe this team had the best record in the National League.

Is the Cubs' problem that they are feeling the postseason pressure? DeRosa described the situation as "do-or-die," and he said that before the loss. He acknowledged after the game that it was probably a poor choice of words, and Piniella was so upset with those words that he met with DeRosa when he heard about them.

"He said, 'It's not do-or-die. You're not eliminated if you lose. You're not eliminated until you lose three games,'" DeRosa said. "We just have to win three in a row, and we've done that a bunch this year. He just wanted to keep it in perspective a little better."

That's right. You need to keep things in perspective in baseball. Thursday was NOT a do-or-die situation. Saturday is.

And if their team doesn't win, Cubs fans can't blame this autumn on Bartman or goats or black cats. This 2-0 deficit has nothing to do with jinxes or curses or the burden of 100-year-old ghosts. This has simply been the result of what has usually been at the heart of the team's century of futility.

Appallingly bad baseball.

Jim Caple is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.