August 4, 2011

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

As a huge baseball fan, I've been blessed this season to already have been in attendance for three Major League contests in 2011. Unfortunately, as a Cubs fan, I've been cursed to witness a pair of demoralizing losses to the arch rival Cardinals, a point not lost for my many friends of the St. Louis persuasion. (The Cards are 7-1 vs. Chicago heading into Sunday night's game.)

As if it wasn't bad enough to be on hand at Busch Stadium in June when Albert Pujols hit the first of his back-to-back walk-off home runs in the bottom of the ninth to win a pair of games over the Cubs.

When I was watching ESPN the following day, I thought they were showing a replay of the game I was at, but then I noticed it was night time, and I was at a day game. Possibly it was just the dark clouds that have rolled in on Chicago's season.

Saturday's game in St. Louis did little to change that forecast.

After enduring heavy rains most of the morning, the skies cleared as the game started on time. We sat in some excellent seats, right next to the Cardinals bullpen in the right field bleachers.

I sort of felt like I was on the hot seat, as the lone Cub fan among seven Cardinals lovers, especially after Chicago exploded for five runs in the top of the first inning. Then again it may have been the sauna-like atmosphere created by the evaporating rain that made 85-degrees feel like the near side of the sun.

I was wise enough to keep my excitement to myself. Despite the spattering of blue shirts in the crowd, I was still an obvious minority. Unfortunately the shock of a 5-0 lead led me to send a text message back to Memphis reporting the score to my biggest Cub-needler pal.

He replied quickly with a message highlighting the fact that my team was only 17 games out of first place punctuating the commentary with the usual Cubs Stink salute.

Before the day was over, I had to message him back in agreement.

The deficit was immediately trimmed to 5-2 in the bottom of the first highlighted by a Pujols home run.

The wheels came totally off for Chicago in the bottom of the fifth. St. Louis took advantage of two Cubs' errors (giving them a league-leading 93 fielding miscues) and five walks. They scored eight runs with only four base hits... Ouch!

I fully expected to see my mug on the jumbo-tron in the outfield as I stood there, holding my head in disbelief.

David Freese gave us a little excitement, planting a home run in our section that sent fans scrambling for the souvenir. I was a bit surprised it didn't just crack me in the head and pout me out of my misery.

I've seen a lot of bad Cubs teams over the years, but I was pretty disappointed. I understand they are way out of contention and they were taking it on the chin, but it sure seemed to me that many of the players have already packed it in. Their body language revealed it, above and beyond the examples of failure to hustle and execute. Chicago had two hits in the first inning. They got their third and final hit in the ninth.

The Cardinals could have done the same thing after falling behind 5-0 in the first inning. But the better team rallied and scored 13 unanswered runs to stay within two-games of the first place Brewers.

Oh well, maybe next season.

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