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Cubs are coming apart just like a cheap book

October 03, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

CHICAGO -- The fans here sat quietly through Game 1, as if posing for a painting in Wrigley Field, while the Cubs played dead.

When the faithful arrived Thursday night for what might be the last home game of the season, the die-hards began to show some life. Or maybe they just had more time to drink before the late start.

They were cheering long before Jeff Ray finished the national anthem, then chanting, "Let's Go Cubs," and on their feet demanding Carlos Zambrano strike out Manny Ramirez.

Everyone connected with Triumph Books and the Chicago Tribune undoubtedly on their feet as well, knowing how tough it will be to continue selling the 128-page book, "This is the Year!" if it really isn't.

There was tremendous energy in the old place. It was as if someone had dusted off a copy of the 1984 Cubs' playoff classic, "You Gotta Have Heart," the author here in the stadium, in fact, 24 years after writing the loving ode to the Cubs.

"Come on, I was just trying to survive -- making only $14,000 a year," said Ned Colletti, the author and former Cubs PR guy, who is now working as Dodgers' GM, and hoping his team rips the collective heart out of long-suffering Cubs fans.

The Cubs could've passed out copies of "You Gotta Have Heart" like noisemakers to everyone entering the park since they remain readily available on amazon.com for 30 cents each. No telling what an autographed copy might bring.

But as it turns out, You Gotta Have Nerve to play these postseason games, Manny in the lineup not hurting, and by the time this one was over, the Dodgers had won something like 100 to nothing.

The Cubs became unglued as usual with the heat turned up in this icebox, while our heroes continued to play with a carefree air about them, which also traces directly back to Manny's arrival.

The Cubs were so tight, their catcher couldn't get the ball back to the pitcher without bouncing it at his feet. And their first, second, and third baseman took turns making errors. The bad news Cubbie bears. Later, the shortstop made an error, the Cubs going inept around the horn.

The Dodgers had the bases loaded in the second, meanwhile, because the Cubs were rattled. Catcher Russell Martin, who came here saying, "I wanted to play the Cubs because I just love this atmosphere," then cleared them with a double.

It was so quiet in Wrigley Field, you could hear Dodgers fans back home cheering.

You live here, and curses, you get excited about the Cubs every April, get your heartbroken every October or so and start shoveling in December.

You win two in a row here, as our heroes have done, and you return to Dodger Stadium with a pretty good chance the fans won't get off to as slow a start as Cubs fans. The folks back home have been waiting a long time to be witnesses to a playoff clincher.

As for Chicago, as one scribe noted, it's just one more body blow.

The Cubs have lost eight straight playoff games and five in a row under Lou Piniella, who just got a contract extension.

"Listen, if you play the way we played, it doesn't mater who your opposition is," Piniella said, while making it clear he's finished with Kosuke Fukudome.

"This is not do or die; we've got the chance to play better baseball in L.A., and bring it back here."

But no promises this time, although this is the same Piniella who promised years ago after falling behind Joe Torre's Yankees, his Mariners would return home to play again. They never did.

Piniella is 3-10 in playoff games against teams managed by Torre, and the Dodgers 2-0 in postseason games with Torre in charge, because as he will tell you, "the playoffs are all about pitching, pitching and pitching."

Derek Lowe got the Dodgers off to an upset-minded start, and in the first center-stage performance in Chad Billingsley's blossoming career, he not only snuffed out the Cubs' comeback plans, but outclassed Zambrano, Chicago's so-called ace.

Billingsley, as nice a young man as the Dodgers have in the clubhouse, has already established himself as a solid starter, but now he has shown he's a solid starter who can handle the glare of the spotlight.

If this kind of stuff continues, another hero a day emerging -- well first, how about one more win before really getting carried away?

RAMIREZ WAS joking before the game, "I don't think they like me here," referring to the folks who sit in the left-field bleachers. "Oh my gosh, the things they were saying."

Informed later the police arrested a 31-year-old man Wednesday night for reckless conduct, and kept him in jail all night after he allegedly threw a ball at Ramirez, the Dodgers' left fielder appeared dumbfounded.

"I threw them the ball in the bleachers after warming up between innings," he said, "and they threw it back."

At least the guy in the stands caught the ball, which is more than most of the Cubs can say.

VIN SCULLY is always in a good mood, but it seems unusually so the last two days. No wonder -- he works the first three innings and the last three, but for the first time all season gets a bathroom break in the middle of the game.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers

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