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A cool wind blowing in from the north Wednesday night brought a late September feel to Wrigley Field.
While the calendar says there's still more than a month to go before the Cubs season ends, the chilly weather and the team's late-summer free fall suggested otherwise.
Scoreboard-watching was no longer a necessity during the Cubs 9-4 victory over the Nationals, and leaving during the seventh inning of a tied game didn't lead to many pangs of guilt.
The fans seemingly have packed it in, even if the Cubs insist they haven't given up.
"I don't think anyone is packing it in," manager Lou Piniella said. "We're not playing a beer league team from across town. We're playing a professional team that has professional players. They're getting paid to play and beat you, too.
"We've struggled. We've had a bad two-three weeks where we haven't won with consistency, but I haven't seen any signs of packing it in."
Milton Bradley homered and drove in three runs and Angel Guzman notched the victory in relief of Rich Harden. But the Cubs still need a Hubble telescope to locate their position in the playoff hunt, trailing the Cardinals by nine games in the National League Central and the Rockies by 7 ½ games in the wild-card chase.
"We still believe we're in it," Harden said. "Nobody's down. No one believes we're out of it."
Harden pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits and leaving with the game tied 2-2. After getting into trouble in the first with a single, a hit batter and a walk, Harden escaped with only one run scoring and settled down.
The Cubs grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third on Bradley's two-run homer down the right-field line off Livan Hernandez, his second in two games after hitting only nine in his first 103 games.
Bradley reintroduced his so-called "Muppet conversation" after the homer, making hand gestures like a talking hand-sock puppet. Piniella coined the term last week in San Diego when Bradley made the gesture after a home run to a fan who had been heckling him.
Bradley said he was just making a generic statement to all booing fans, not anyone in particular.
"That's what I do," he said. "People always have something to say. Keep talking. It ain't stopping nothing. 'What are you trying to prove?' I'm not proving anything but you're an idiot."
With the game tied 2-2 in the seventh, Bradley hit a chopper to third and Ryan Zimmerman's throw to the plate was wide, so Koyie Hill scored the go-ahead run. Hill's two-run double in the six-run eighth sealed the deal.
The day ended well for Bradley, who lashed out at fans for alleged racial abuse before the game.
Asked after the game if he felt "love," Bradley replied: "I feel love [from] me. I love me. I look in the mirror and go out and play.
"I feel love from my teammates, love from the coaching staff and from myself."
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