Saturday, July 24, 2004

Cubs 5, Phillies 1

The evening had started with such promise. Late-afternoon and early-evening rain showers ended just before game time, enabling Brett Myers to deliver his first pitch at the scheduled 7:05. But the heavy drenching kept crowds in Ashburn Alley lighter than usual, and my brother and I had only a few minutes' wait in the line for Tony Luke's. Soon each of us was enjoying a roast pork sandwich, the Park's most delicious food option. (The Schmitter remains the stadium's best value, as measure in taste-to-waiting-in-line ratio.)

Matthew had even managed to solve the mystery of Eric Gregg's disappearance. The last known sighting of the rotund former umpire was last season at Chickie's & Pete's at the Vet, where he poured me suds once or twice. Last night, though, Matthew ducked into a small C&P french fry stand shoehorned into a little-used corner of Ashburn Alley, and there was Gregg serving beer.

Myers pitched a decent game, his best in a while. He had good command of his curveball, and when the Phillies plated a first-inning run on Jimmy Rollins's triple and Placido Polanco's single, we thought we were in for a good night. But then the Cubs started playing longball. Derrek Lee and Moises Alou went yard early, and Sammy Sosa put Ryan Madson in his book with an impressive bomb to center. Meanwhile, Kerry Wood cruised. Jim Thome, out with a sore finger, was missed by the Phils; Bill Wagner, out with a sore shoulder, wasn't, as the team never came close to needing him.

Wood's performance was overwhelming, but the Phillies helped his cause with their usual tendency toward impatience at the plate. And despite a crowd that was, for once, less interested in walking around the concourse and more inclined to stay focused on the action, the Phils were maddeningly lifeless, accepting their loss with docile glumness. Their dugout was devoid of anything resembling emotion, and two of their three ninth-inning outs came on called third strikes. Then again, we fans were pretty silent ourselves; there just wasn't much to cheer for. It was up to the depressingly large number of Cubs fans scattered throughout the Park to make some noise.

And so the Phils fell out of first by a half-game, thanks to the Braves-Mets rainout last night. A playoff spot, once a virtual certainty, grows ever more tentative by the day. You wonder if the folks in the Phillies' clubhouse and front office know that. I mean, really know it.


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