In a lost week to a lost season, the Cubs outdid themselves on Saturday with another in a series of mind-numbing defeats, ensuring their 96th consecutive year without a World Series championship.
They now have lost seven of their last eight games in a late-season plunge of epic proportions, earning a unique spot in Cubs lore.
"Until the last week to 10 days, we felt we had a real good shot," general manager Jim Hendry said. "It's a shame the way it worked out. We lost a lot of tough games down the stretch, starting with that Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium. We just didn't get the job done the last week when we had a chance, and it's unfortunate."
Every Cubs regular made himself available to talk after the game with the exception of right fielder Sammy Sosa. Most preferred to think of it as a dream deferred instead of a classic Cubs collapse. Manager Dusty Baker put the blame for the debacle on himself.
"The blame goes to the boss," Baker said. "If you're going to get the accolades, then you have to accept some of the blame too. Yeah, they can blame me."
Has the criticism at Baker been justified? He said some has, and some has not.
"I have broad shoulders," he said. "I'm a strong man. I've been blamed before."
In the game that knocked the Cubs out, Mike Remlinger posted the Cubs' 25th blown save of the season, allowing a two-run, eighth-inning triple to J.D. Drew to deny Carlos Zambrano a chance at earning his 17th victory.
"A lot of things happened to us this year, a lot of injuries, but we kept fighting," Zambrano said. "It's sad we're not in the playoffs."
Zambrano allowed five runs on nine hits in 52/3 innings and had a three-run lead with two outs in the sixth when center fielder Jose Macias lost a fly ball in the sun that allowed a run to score. Then Marcus Giles singled in another to make it 6-5, leading to Zambrano's exit after 120 pitches.
Afterward, it was time to let the post-mortem begin.
"It hurts so bad because we have such a good team," said Moises Alou, whose three-run homer in the fifth gave Zambrano the lead. "I'm sure [management] will make some changes. I was very proud to be a teammate of most of the guys here.
"I thought we were going to have a longer ride. I'm very disappointed. We're a lot better than this. Everybody knows in this game there's no way the Cubs should be out."
The Cubs have sold out almost every game, but unlike past seasons, the crowds have been surlier and more prone to booing.
"I don't care about the people who were booing usbooing Sammy [Sosa] half the year or booing Corey [Patterson]," second baseman Todd Walker said. "I don't care about those people. But there are a lot of loyal Cubs fans out there, and that's what hurts deep down, that in a sense we let those people down. That's tough to swallow."
Every time the Cubs fall apart, like the past eight days, the notion that the franchise is cursed comes up again.
"I'm just sick and tired of media and fans bringing that stuff up," Alou said. "You're either lucky or unlucky. Florida has won two [World Series] in 10 years. Unfortunately for this city and this team, it hasn't happened in a long time. But you can't believe that stuff. You guys keep bringing it up and making the fans believe in that."
In the end, a $92 million payroll and a clubhouse full of stars wasn't enough to save a star-crossed season.