Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

It's Showtime for Cubs, ``Muffet'' Man

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At least there seemed to be energy on this night, even if it looked more like a standup act for a while.

The manager said he took a ``rickshaw'' to the park to avoid the San Diego jaywalking cops and had some of the more gullible among us believing him until he started laughing.

Then Bill Murray joined Cubs execs Jim Hendry and Scott Nelson in the third-base box seats for Wednesday night's game and cracked up half the Cubs' dugout by riding third-base coach Mike Quade for nine innings.

And then Milton Bradley stole the show when he had what Piniella called a ``muffet conversation'' with a fan behind home plate after his sixth-inning home run - gesturing with his hand like it was a puppet talking. Then his hand ``conversed'' again with fans down the right field line on his way to his position after the half-inning.

Talk about laughing until you cry.

Because after all the comic relief - followed by more serious relief resulting from a 7-1 win that snapped an 0-for-5 in games at San Diego this year - the Cubs headed up I-5 by bus to play four against the team that still has the best record in the NL despite losing this week's series to St. Louis.

Consider it Showtime in Hollywood for a team scrambling to rewrite their script.

Maybe all that focus on lack of energy the past couple days, brought on by lackluster losses to last-place San Diego to open a seven-game road trip kicked something into gear Wednesday.

Of course, the real test will be if they can take it up the highway with them to LA - or sustain it on back-to-back days anywhere.

But Rich Harden, for one, liked what he saw Wednesday from a team he called out two weeks ago for lack of intensity after a shutout loss at Cincinnati.

``It's something we've known we needed to do,'' Harden said of picking up the energy, if not urgency, of the season. ``It was good today. After losing the first two it was tough. We realized we needed to pick it up. There's not many games left.

``We play like that, nobody can stop us. Hopefully, from now on, that's the team you'll see out there.''

Certainly, Harden, who had a rough first half, is part of the unstoppable equation if he's pitching one-hit ball for seven innings like he did Wednesday night.

But beyond that, Harden, one of the quietest Cubs, might be turning into an understated vocal leader. He's definitely not afraid to say what everybody watching already can see.

``It's kind of easy early in the season to say we've got a lot of games left. And you get sick of people whining about things and saying this and that,'' he said, apparently referring to the injury justification for what's gone wrong.

``You've got to get it done,'' he added. ``We can't afford to go out there and drop two of three in a series.''

Especially against a last-place team like the no-name Padres. In any park.

``Momentum is something you always talk about wanting to take into the next series. Hopefully, we can do that,'' he said of Los Angeles, ``build on this and bring some intensity to that series. It's going to be a tough series.''

And maybe the most telling one yet this season. Because if the Cubs finish off this trip falling another two games or more behind the Cardinals - who get the Padres this weekend - then it's not going to matter how weak those teams look on that long, upcoming homestand.

At that point, there might be nothing worth watching in September but the Muffet Man.

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Rich Harden was safe at first on his bunt for a hit. I thought a tie goes to the runner.

I enjoyed watching all of the antics in last night's game. I especially liked seeing Bradley smiling and having some fun for a change. Bill Murray should be given a spot on the bench to keep the players loose. Of course the fact that the Cubs scored early and won handily is a major factor, but one should still not forget that this is a "game," not a life or death struggle.Even Ramirez, who is generally all concentration, loosened up a bit and grinned last night. Soriano even smiled rather than petulantly frowning at pitches he should not have swung at, balls he mishandled in the outfield, and his own dissatisfaction at his blunders.Now if St. Louis quits coming from behind and manages to blow a few, things should get pretty interesting.

Oh boy. What fun. The Cubs suck. What a barrel of laughs. I doubt I'll smile again for some time. Even though Hendry and Pinella may be gone soon, we're stuck for the next five years with Hendry's contracts.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on August 20, 2009 1:53 AM.

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