Chokers | Bleader

Chokers

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During the second game of the playoff series between the Cubs and Dodgers, I was thinking of my old UPI colleague Frank Krohl. Not because of his playful warning that 5-0 was "the most dangerous lead in baseball," although I did try at one point to rally myself with that thought. Before that, while the Dodgers were building their 5-0 lead, I recalled a T-shirt Frank used to wear. It was Cubbie blue, with a big red C logo at the chest, only inside the C it didn't read "Cubs," but "Chokers."

Frank was a Cubs-hating Sox fan, and he got a kick out of wearing that shirt, like after the 1984 and '89 playoff debacles. Me, I've never much liked throwing that particular C word around, but when the label fits, wear it.

Starter Ryan Dempster said he was "geeked up" in the opener, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he was "overthrowing," but simply put he reacted poorly to the pressure. Mark DeRosa booted a ground ball trying to rush a potential inning-ending double play in the second inning of the second game Thursday, and Derrek Lee responded in kind with the very next batter, and a perfectly placed and perfectly irritating two-out, bases-loaded bunt by Rafael Furcal caused Carlos Zambrano, who otherwise pitched extremely well, to leave a fastball up for Russell Martin to line into left-center for a three-run double, and that made it 5-0. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez committed another error in the fourth, although it didn't lead to any scoring. "Are you kidding me?" said a woman sitting across the aisle from me down the left-field upper deck. "How do you go all year and then fucking crumble?" Manager Lou Piniella said basically the same thing later, although more diplomatically: "The last two games have probably been the two worst games we've played all year. It wasn't fun to watch." It was laughable, however, when shortstop Ryan Theriot showed some infield solidarity in the ninth by committing an error as well that led to another unearned run. All four infielders committed errors. Only the Cubs.

I'm not saying the Cubs are out of it. As Piniella pointed out afterward, they have two good pitchers lined up in Rich Harden and Ted Lilly, and they may yet win both games in Los Angeles and bring the series back home for a clinching fifth game. Yet, given how badly the Cubs performed in front of their avid, rabid fans, it's probably best for them to get out of town for a while and try to regroup -- and recompose themselves -- on the road.

When the game attendance of 42,136 was announced, the woman across the aisle said, "Forty-two  thousand one hundred thirty-six fools." More than that, actually.

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