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Cruel end to one fine month
The Cubs started June 6 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central Division.
They ended it 7 1/2 back after their most lopsided loss of the year, a 13-4 drubbing Saturday by those Brewers.If June proved anything, it's that the Cubs have a very steep climb in front of them, because they finished the month with a 17-11 record.
But the Brewers finished at 17-9. Not only that, but they ended the month with 13 runs and 15 hits against five Cubs pitchers, including seven and seven in two innings against starter Sean Marshall.
If this was a statement game after a heart-breaking loss on Friday, then it was a statement finished with a boldfaced exclamation mark.
"They don't have to make a statement," Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "They've been in first place all year."
OK, so it wasn't a statement, just more proof that the Baby Brewers are for real and are not going to be intimidated or scared by a last-inning meltdown from the previous day.
"We're not crawled up into the fetal position, that's for sure," manager Ned Yost said.
As for the Cubs, it was a wild and crazy end to a zany and madcap month that started with the infamous players-only meeting and included Lou Piniella's dirt-kicking exhibition and suspension, a one-sided slugging match between Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett, Barrett's eventual trade and Derrek Lee's fist-filled visit to the mound which resulted in a still-pending five-game suspension.
"It might have been wild for Cubs fans, but it wasn't wild for me," Piniella said. "To me, [compared to] those Yankees teams I played with, this was very tranquil. Really, very tranquil.
"Other places, maybe 10 years in Seattle, it's probably a little more hectic, but this team is showing its heart and it shows it wants to compete and shows they care. When that happens, things out of the ordinary do too."
Still, compared to a 10-14 April and a 12-15 May, June was a good month.
"But we have to continue," Lee said. "There's still a long way to go. Following up with a bad July doesn't mean much. We have to keep it going."
Piniella said: "I've seen improvement in this team for a while. It's been slow but steady. I felt that sooner or later it would have to start showing up in the win-loss column.
"But I always caution because you're never as good you are when you're playing really good and you're never as bad as you are when you're playing bad. So let's keep an even keel and keep this in perspective and continue to grind."
It was as if the Cubs were ground into mincemeat Saturday in front of 41,415 Wrigley Field witnesses.
They dropped below .500 again and haven't been above since they were 16-15 on May 9, which is the last time Sunday's starter Jason Marquis won a game.
They could fall as far behind the Brewers as 8 1/2 games if they lose Sunday, and with the knowledge that only one series between the two remain.
Saturday included the usual unusualness, including:
*Forgotten Jacque Jones actually playing, entering the game in the third inning and going 0-for-3 to lower his batting average to .228.
*Zambrano pinch-hitting in the sixth and striking out.
*Starting shortstop Mike Fontenot making an error there in the first inning and then one at second base in the fifth.
*And regulars Alfonso Soriano, Lee and Ramirez being rested the final four innings when the score was 9-2.
"These guys have been playing real hard," Piniella said. "I would have rested a couple more, but we were just out of players."