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Not reelin', but not happy
In keeping with a season that defies explanation, the Cubs did things backward in Monday's doubleheader at Pro Player Stadium.
They won the game you might have thought they were going to lose and lost a game they were supposed to win.
After knocking around Florida ace Carl Pavano 5-1 in the opener, they bowed to emergency starter David Weathers in a 5-2 loss in Game 2.
"If you can explain baseball, you're better than I am," said Todd Walker, who had a two-run homer snatched from him by Juan Encarnacion's leaping catch at the right-field wall in the ninth inning of the second game.
With San Francisco and Houston idle, the Cubs remained a half-game behind the Giants in the wild-card race and a half-game ahead of the Astros.
Instead of dealing the Marlins a knockout punch, the Cubs let them hang around the pack, 4½ games behind the leaders.
The Cubs play their next 10 games against the Pirates, Mets and Reds, who are a combined 43 games under .500.
"It's going to come down to the last few days, no matter who it is," Walker said. "We've just got to continue to play like we've been playing and we'll be OK.
"We've got a favorable schedule coming up, so we've got to take advantage of who we're playing."
Mark Prior turned in his best outing of the season in Game 1, allowing one first-inning run before shutting down the Marlins into the eighth. Prior (6-4) left after 72/3 innings.
He allowed five hits, struck out nine, walked one and threw a season-high 129 pitches.
"This is a blast," Prior said. "This is my third year. I've been to the playoffs once and have a chance to go twice.
"There's a lot of great things that have happened this year that have kind of been lost with some of the expectations or the scrutiny or whatever. You've got a team like St. Louis that is [on the verge of] 100 wins, and it's tough to pass.
"I don't care what happens. We find ourselves with a chance to go to the playoffs and that's the most important thing. This perception that we're not having fun ... we're having a blast."
Cubs manager Dusty Baker rested Sammy Sosa, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Barrett and Mark Grudzielanek in Game 1, using reserves Ben Grieve, Jose Macias, Paul Bako and Walker.
It was the same strategy Baker used in the first game of a doubleheader Sept. 10 against the Marlins at Wrigley Field, when Pavano threw a seven-hit shutout against a lineup that didn't include Ramirez, Moises Alou or Grudzielanek.
Macias, Walker and Bako were a combined 6-for-13 in Game 1 Monday with two RBIs, giving Prior an early lead.
"Nothing works all the time," Baker said. "When it doesn't work, then you hear about it. The old school isn't too bad. Contrary to what some people are saying about the great old-school ideas and ways to play the game, the game hasn't changed. People change.
"It's the best way to win a doubleheader. You get some [regulars] in the game late and get them ready for the second game, and they're not all burnt out for the second game."
But the second game got off on the wrong foot for the Cubs when Matt Clement walked Juan Pierre, hit Jeff Conine and served up a three-run homer to Damion Easley on an 0-2 pitch in the first inning.
After RBI doubles by Miguel Cabrera and Easley in the third, the Cubs were in a 5-1 hole and Clement (9-13) was history.
"It would've been a great game to win," Clement said. "I disappointed myself."
Weathers, who was 0-4 with an 11.44 ERA against the Cubs in his career, held his former team to a run on two hits over five innings in his first start since 1998, and the Marlins' bullpen did the rest.
The Cubs trailed by three in the ninth when Encarnacion leaped over the wall to take a home run away from pinch-hitter Walker.
It was that kind of day for the Cubs.
"I hate to say you'd almost rather strike out," Walker said, "but it's pretty disappointing when that happens."