If the trade of Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot Saturday was a signal from above that Cubs' long-listing season has finally been scrapped by the front office, the remaining players on the team didn't see it that way, at least for one night.
Not that it mattered by the time Carlos Gonzalez got done strafing their pitching again, this time hitting for the cycle - and saving the home run for a mile-high, mile-long bolt off Sean Marshall to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, beating the Cubs 6-5.
``The question was asked earlier,'' acting manager Alan Trammell said of the anticipated team effort following the trade. ``I think we can answer it. They played. They played hard. But we came up a little short because of Mr. Gonzalez.''
The effort the rest of the way was something general manager Jim Hendry said he was not concerned about becoming a problem.
``Not at all,'' he said. ``We always give our players a lot of respect. We didn't make moves to take away from the club until we felt like we didn't have a reasonable chance to get in.''
And if anybody still with the club feels they're a little short on motivation, they should consider their 2011 status. ``Obviously, people need to know that how they do the rest of the year certainly has an effect on how we evaluate the club moving forward,'' Hendry said.
That won't be a problem, several players said. Saturday's starter, Tom Gorzelanny, even stuck to the still-have-a-chance-to-get-back-in-the-race theme.
``It's a long road ahead of us, but a lot more than that has been overcome in this game,'' he said. ``We're not counting ourselves out just because Ted and Ryan are gone.''
Of course, Mr. Gonzalez can do that for them - his 8-for-10, 18-total-base effort the past two nights almost having a lot to do with another pair of Cub losses.
``I think we've seen enough of Mr. Gonzalez. Geesh,'' Trammell said.
And that cycle is staring to look like an annual Colorado tradition when the Cubs come to town. It was a year ago next week that Troy Tulowitzki was the last Rockie to hit for the cycle - which was also the last game Gorzelanny started at Coors Field.
If there were any positives to take out of the game for the Cubs they included Gorzelanny pitching into the seventh, if not in one of his best outings of the year, and Derrek Lee's tying three-run homer in the eighth that snapped a 22-at-bat team drought with men in scoring position - dating back to Monday in Houston.
Trammell also was able to get Carlos Zambrano into a game for the first time since his June 25 meltdown and subsequent suspension and anger-management studies.
With one out, a man on first and the Cubs trailing by three, Zambrano entered to a hefty chorus of boos in the seventh.
He walked the first batter and gave up a single to the next to load the bases, but then struck out Seth Smith with a 95-mph fastball and got Brad Hawpe to end the inning with a popup to short.
``He got himself into a little trouble, but he got out of it and was able to get back into being with the team and feeling a part of it,'' Trammell said. ``I thought that was a positive.''
Zambrano said he feels strong and fresh and that it felt good to get back on the mound in a big-league game for the first time in five weeks. ``It's been a long time,'' he said. My arm felt good, and after the walk I was able to command my pitches.''
He also said that despite pitching no more than two innings in any appearance since June 20, he's capable of filling Lilly's vacated rotation spot, as soon as Tuesday.
``Ask Lou,'' he said. ``I'm ready to pitch in any situation and any role they want me to pitch. That's the question Lou needs to answer.''
But, he added, ``I'm ready to pitch [as a starter] Tuesday, Thursday, whenever they want me to pitch. I'm ready to get back in the starting rotation if they want me.''