As Cubs manager Dusty Baker sat in the sun-soaked visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field Sunday morning, someone asked how his team would react to a season-worst four-game losing streak.
"We've got to ride it out," he said, working his ever-present toothpick.
Interesting analogy, Skip. The Cubs and White Sox came at each other Sunday like a couple of red line trains clattering along on the same tracks.
This was a collision between two teams crawling toward .500the Cubs from just above, the White Sox from just below. The Cubs and Sox entered Sunday's game with a combined record of 80-79.
Mediocrity, thy name is Chicago. Our baseball glass is half-full and half-empty.
The Cubs went south in more ways than one this weekend. When their bus left for U.S. Cellular Field Friday morning, the Cubs were tied for first place. They awoke Sunday morning in third, behind St. Louis and Houston.
The Sox, meanwhile, were trying to avoid the bends as they climbed toward the top of the sludge pool known as the American League Central. Sunday morning found them in third place, chasing Kansas City and Minnesota.
No wonder both sides kept an eye on the big out-of-town scoreboard in right field as their final meeting of the season played out. Final regular-season meeting, we mean.
The weekend's marquee mound matchup sends the White Sox's Esteban Loaiza, 11-2 with a 1.99 earned-run average, against the Cubs' Kerry Wood, 7-5 with a 2.94 ERA.
Both pitchers issue walks in the first frame, following a trend set Saturday, when the two sides walked 16 men and six of them came around to score. But Loaiza and Wood escape trouble by coaxing double-play grounders.
Cubs 0, White Sox 0
Sammy Sosa would love nothing better than to answer the jeering multitudes with a blast into the seats. But he pops weakly to his opposite number, Magglio Ordonez, and the Cubs strand Eric Karros after he doubles with two out.
In the bottom half, Wood walks Ordonez to open the inning. You'd think that by now the Cubs would know to keep Ordonez off the bases. On Saturday, Ordonez created the winning run by taking second on a deep fly to Sosa, then racing around on D'Angelo Jimenez's bouncer up the middle.
After taking third on Carlos Lee's single, Ordonez tags up on Jose Valentin's medium-deep fly to left, beating left fielder Tom Goodwin's throw by yards.
There's more bad news for the Cubs on the big scoreboard in right field. The Cardinals have leaped out to a 4-1 lead over Kansas City down in Missouri.
White Sox 1, Cubs 0
After Goodwin leads off with a double down the left-field line, Damian Miller and Mark Grudzielanek strike out. Alex Gonzalez does what Miller and Grudzielanek should have done: he hits the ball to right. Unfortunately, Ordonez catches it for the third out.
White Sox 1, Cubs 0
The Cubs touch Loaiza for three runstwo on a home run by DH-for-a-day Moises Alou and a third on the pesky Goodwin's single. It's a good thing the Cubs are scoring. Unfortunately, so are the Cardinals, who are all over K.C., 6-2.
Cubs 3, White Sox 1
After Grudzielanek leads off with a single, Gonzalez smashes a ready-made double-play ball to Jimenez at third. But Jimenez, who's making his first and possibly last start at the hot corner, fires the ball into right field.
Grudzielanek scampers around to third and trots home on Corey Patterson's grounder. Suddenly the White Sox are looking like a sub-.500 teamwhich, of course, they still are.
While the Cubs have been cuffing Loaiza around, Wood has been on autopilot, retiring 10 consecutive Sox. But with two out, Aaron Rowand homers into the right-field bullpen. That's Rowand's second homer in three at-bats. He had one in his first 80 at-bats this season.
Sammy, is your BP bat missing?
Cubs 4, White Sox 2
Former/present Cub Jose Hernandez homers to give Wood a three-run cushion. Last year Wood coughed up an eight-run lead on this mound. And when he walks Jimenez with one out, the ballpark begins to buzz. But Wood strikes out Frank Thomas and is out of the inning when Gonzalez robs Ordonez with a nifty play in the hole.
Emboldened Cubs fans stand and cheer. Neighboring Sox fans point to the out-of-town scoreboard, which reads STL 8, KC 2 in the sixth.
Cubs 5, White Sox 2
In the bottom half, Wood grimaces as he walks leadoff man Brian Daubach, bringing trainer Dave Tumbas sprinting out of the dugout. Wood, who later said he felt pain in his heel, takes a few warmup tosses and shoos the crowd out of his office.
But worry spreads when Lee strokes a single to right, bringing Cub-killer Valentin to the plate with the tying run and no outs. After Valentin stops hearts with a warning-track fly to right, Wood loads the bases by walking Babe Rowand on four pitches.
Now comes the game's pivotal momentWood against left-handed pinch-hitter Armando Rios. Baker has lefty Mike Remlinger warming up but decides to allow the tiring Wood to face Rios. Baker is leaving himself open for a Monday morning barbecue, but he's tired of watching his relievers implode.
Wood fans Rios and gets weak-hitting Willie Harris to pop to second.
"It was just a big inning to get out of for our team and make it easier on our bullpen," Wood said afterward.
Bullpen? What bullpen?
Cubs 5, White Sox 2
Karros' bat shatters on a single to left. Sox fans demand an immediate investigation.
Wood quickly finds himself in another jam when Thomas singles and Ordonez walks with one out to bring up the lefty-swinging Daubach. Remlinger is warming up again, but Baker still can't bring himself to pick up the phone to the pen.
Wood pops up Daubach and fans Lee.
The seats in the far corners of the upper deck begin to empty, never to be filled again this summer.
Cubs 5, White Sox 2
A desperate Sox fan behind the plate yells "Bring in Alfonseca!" No such luck. After giving up homers each of the last two days, Antonio Alfonseca isn't getting into this game if it goes 20 innings. And it doesn't: Remlinger and Joe Borowski somehow manage to protect the lead.
So both teams go away with something to smile aboutthe Cubs with a face-saving, sweep-averting victory and the Sox with a 4-2 win in the season series. But no one was happier than Wood, who finally beat the Sox. He was thrilled to see the cross-town series end.
"Now we can worry about playing baseball," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun