Mike Nadel: Big-money Cubbies not earning their keep
Already this postseason, the Cubs have sought travel-planning advice from a "sleep doctor" and have let a priest sprinkle curse-reversing holy water around Wrigley Field's home dugout. Really. You think I could make this stuff up?
Given that they've tried pretty much everything else over decades of futility - from taunting Babe Ruth to handing Todd Hundley sacks of cash and from employing the College of Coaches to keeping Neifi Perez around as a bad-luck charm - what could these latest desperate measures hurt?
Hey, here's a silly notion: big-money superstars actually coming through with the season on the line.
Alfonso Soriano: eight years, $136 million. Carlos Zambrano: six years, $91.5 million. Aramis Ramirez: five years, $75 million. Derrek Lee: five years, $65 million. Kosuke Fukudome: four years, $48 million.
Having lost Game 1 of their first-round series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs took the field Thursday night in desperation mode. (The game was not yet completed when this edition went to press.) They were looking for something special from the players they have deemed most special.
If my abacus is functioning properly, Chicago National League Ball Club Inc. has invested $415.5 million on Soriano, Zambrano, Ramirez, Lee and Fukudome.
We shouldn't begrudge elite athletes and other entertainers their millions. It's supply-and-demand capitalism at its finest. That being said, those with contracts full of commas and zeroes simply have to produce.
"There's a responsibility (to) a ballclub committing so much money, so many years and stuff like that," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
Though no ballplayer can come close to producing every time, some, such as L.A.'s Manny Ramirez, elevate their games when the stakes are highest. One of the great clutch hitters of this era, Ramirez was a major reason Boston won two World Series, and he has victimized the Cubs by homering in each of his first two postseason games for the Dodgers.
The Cubs have a big-money Ramirez, too ... but Aramis is no Manny.
Aramis has delivered many winning hits during his 5 1/2 years with the Cubs, but he has failed repeatedly with the money on the line: 1-for-9 with no RBIs in the last three games of the 2003 NLCS, .160 with no RBIs during the '04 final-week collapse and 0-for-12 in last year's first-round Arizona annihilation.
In his first at-bat Thursday, with a man on second and a chance to give Zambrano an early lead, he flew out.
Ramirez has had plenty of non-help. His first-inning out followed strikeouts by Ryan Theriot and Lee as the team wasted Soriano's first hit of the series. The Cubs, who went 2-for-23 with runners in scoring position against the Diamondbacks last October, were off to an 0-for-8 start just 10 innings into the 2008 playoffs.
With momentum lost - as if somebody had stuck a giant, evil pin in the Cubbie bubble - the second inning was the stuff of legend. (Typical Cubs legend, anyway.)
After singles by Andre Ethier and James Loney and a strikeout of Matt Kemp, Zambrano got Blake DeWitt to hit a double-play grounder to second baseman Mark DeRosa, who booted it for an error. Casey Blake then grounded to Lee, but the Gold Glove first baseman botched the play. A bunt single by Rafael Furcal made it 2-0 before Russell Martin cleared the bases with a double into the alley.
Zambrano was done in by his teammates - apparently, it's difficult to field grounders with both hands around your throat - but did that mean the rich right-hander had to fall behind Martin in the count and then groove a pitch? He could have stopped the bleeding and earned his money, no?
He did just that in the fourth, when he struck out Martin after Ramirez committed an error at third base.
That's right: E's on Ramirez, Lee and DeRosa in a three-inning span. What the devil was in that holy water, Father?
It got so bad that the Wrigley faithful responded with Bronx cheers every time an infielder caught a popup.
While Zambrano wasn't at his best in the mound, at least he worked Chad Billingsley, the outstanding Dodgers' starter, for a third-inning walk. As stupid as it sounds, I might prefer Carlos at the plate in a clutch postseason situation to Lee or Ramirez. I DEFINITELY prefer Z to Fukudome, who screws himself into the ground on his frequent strikeouts.
His hitters' October struggles have flummoxed Cubs manager Lou Piniella.
"I really don't have an answer for that one," Piniella said. "In the postseason, you're gonna face good pitching. I don't see anything else I can point to."
Sure, but weren't opposing hitters supposed to be facing good Cubs pitching, too?
Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.