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Wood-a, coulda, shoulda

Chicago CubsSportsNational LeagueBen GrieveWrigley FieldJohnny EstradaChipper Jones

It isn't an easy thing to do, hammering the nails to shut your own coffin while you're inside it.

But the Cubs are very close to succeeding, having gone from contenders to contortionists who are capable of closing the lid and putting in the final nail very soon.

Friday's 5-4 loss to Atlanta was just more of a colossal one-week collapse. The Cubs have lost four straight games and six of their last seven. That's not exactly the way to secure a playoff berth.

With Houston's 4-2 victory over Colorado on Friday night, the Cubs fell two games behind the Astros in the National League wild-card chase with two games left. That means any combination of Houston victories and Cubs losses totaling one will eliminate the Cubs from postseason contention.

For the Cubs, there is not much left to say, as most of the 38,795 Wrigley Field fans booed through the mistakes that have turned the final weekend from celebration to deflation. Home fans haven't had much to cheer of late, the Cubs going 7-8 in front of them during September.

"I don't have an explanation right now," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It's a bad period."

Before a three-run ninth-inning rally, the Cubs looked just like they have for the last week, unable to score enough runs and take advantage in key situations.

It left the fans in an angry mood.

They booed when starter Kerry Wood gave up two-run homers to Atlanta's eighth- and ninth-place hitters. They booed when Mark Grudzielanek's failure to turn a double play turned into a fifth-inning run, and later for his dropped popup. And they booed when Corey Patterson struck out in the fifth inning.

Fans in right field held up the game before the bottom of the eighth inning when they littered the field with drink cups. Empty ones.

"We'd like to think everybody is on our side, but that's not the case," Cubs second baseman Todd Walker said. "That's how baseball is. We do it for ourselves. This year, in one sense, I feel bad for the people who are loyal to this team."

The frustration has popped out all over, and almost everyone is left, like Baker, without an explanation for a team that started with such expectations and was leading the wild-card race a week ago.

"Surprised? Yeah, definitely," Wood said. "We're a much better team than what we've shown this year. We've made it harder on ourselves than it needed to be.

"The last week or so, we haven't played the type of baseball we need to at this point in the season, especially in the race for the wild card. We just didn't get it done."

Wood finished his injury-plagued season with an 8-9 record, allowing 10 hits and five runs in seven innings.

He and the Cubs fell behind 2-0 in the second when left fielder Dewayne Wise homered with Adam LaRoche on base. It became a 4-1 game in the fourth inning when pitcher Mike Hampton homered with LaRoche again on base.

In the fifth J.D. Drew scored, having reached base when Wood hit him with a 1-2 pitch. He went to second when Grudzielanek bobbled a grounder before getting Chipper Jones at first, then scored on Johnny Estrada's single.

The Cubs scored three consolation runs in the ninth inning, two of them on Ben Grieve's pinch double, one of only two extra-base hits for the team that leads the National League in total bases.

The top two hitters in the lineup, Patterson and Derrek Lee, were a combined 0-for-9, with Lee making the final out. Their averages have plummeted in the last few weeks so that each is hitting below. 280.

"Whew," Baker said, shaking his head, "I don't know, maybe they're fatigued. I don't know. If I knew, it wouldn't be happening. … We're not hitting the ball the way we're capable of hitting the ball.

"We have to keep fighting. We have two more [games] to go. We have to win those."

Either win or pull down the lid on a disappointing season.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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