Monday, September 15, 2008

Wha' happened?

And so we appear to be close to it. (You know what I'm talking about - or at least you should at this point. Actually, maybe not. After all, in the universe of the Chicago Cubs fan, there are so many "its", and not all of them are positive. But you're smart people, so you'll figure it out.) Just a few days ago, many a Cubs fan, yours truly included, was - well, panicking, to be fair. The team, after a season of near-dominance, seemed to be running out of gas at the worst possible time, with a plethora of losses piling up and the club's two best pitchers, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden, on the bench with arm issues. The only thing keeping Cubbie faithful from hurling themselves off of their collective balconies was the convenient fact that the team that was closest to Chicago's blood trail, the Milwaukee Brewers, was going through its own meltdown. Indeed, the Cubs had actually picked up a half-game on Milwaukee despite its troubles.

And now ...

Thanks to some not-always-welcome quirks of fate, the landscape has changed, to say the least. Because Hurricane Ike turned Houston into a waterlogged wasteland and left half the city either underwater or powerless (or both), the three-game series between the Cubs and the resurgent Astros was postponed. Then, over the (justifiable) protests of the Astro management, Major League Baseball shifted two of the games to a "neutral" location. Of course, this being Bud Selig's version of Major League Baseball that we're dealing with, said location was determined to be Milwaukee's Miller Park - also know, affectionally, as Wrigley North. So the bedraggled Astros, many of whom have bigger things on their mind than a pennant race - even their own - flew into Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon with hours to spare and, despite the team's red-hot streak, got no-hit by Zambrano, returning for his first start in almost two weeks. Oh, and the crowd? More than 25,000 people, about 99.95 percent of whom were rabid Cubs fans.

And today? Today the Astros managed to get one hit off of Cubs pitching before losing again 6-1, giving the North Siders a quick four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Brewers were getting the suds blown off their head by the Phillies, who swept them in four straight in Philadelphia over the weekend, in the process changing the complexion of the playoff chase. Now the Cubs are ahead of Milwaukee by eight games, the Brewers are tied with the Phillies for the NL wild card with Houston still just two-and-a-half games behind, and Brewers management made the Palin-esque move this afternoon of firing manager Ned Yost with just 12 games left to play, including three against the Cubs at the real Wrigley starting tomorrow.

Game over? Hardly. The Brewers are starting their ace pitcher, CC Sabathia, tomorrow night. He hasn't lost since being traded to Milwaukee in July. And Cubs fans know never to look at a gift goat, er, horse in the mouth. (Yogi Berra is a prophet. Think about that.) But let's just say that the panic has been lessened somewhat. Sure, it came in part from forces beyond our control, maybe even through circumstances we wish could have been different. But it's happened, and now it's up to our lovable "losers" to take advantage and shut the door. Now's the time on Sprockets when we dance.

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