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The Cubs were commemorating the 100th anniversary of the park's first game. Their opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks, are the only team in the National League worse than they are. The north-siders' ace, Jeff Samardzija, was throwing well as usual. So for eight innings, the team was in jeopardy of winning.
The ninth began with the Cubs up 5-2. Manager Rick Renteria had put the lead in the trusty hands of the bullpen. Reliever Pedro Strop, knowing that a homer could cut the lead to two, wisely walked the leadoff hitter. Starlin Castro muffed a grounder. After Strop walked another, a shot up the middle caromed off second base—Wrigley Field itself pitching in with an error. A single tied the game. Then right fielder Justin Ruggiano, diving for a blooper down the line, caught his hamstring but not the ball. Bingo! Victory was averted. Final: 7-5.
It was another step toward a fitting commemoration of Wrigley's 100th year: a 100-loss season. One hundred losses is a demanding goal, one not often reached. The Cubs themselves have only reached it three times. They never did it in the old, 154-game seasons. But in 1962, when seasons were expanded to 162 games, the Cubs seized the opportunity by dropping 103. In 1966, they again were 59-103. The team didn't make the century mark in losses again for 46 years—not until 2012, when the north-siders were 61-101.
But with yesterday's failure the Cubs are 7-13, which keeps them on pace to sink to the occasion. The loss reduced their magic number to 87. Any combination of blown leads, walk-off losses, nail-biters, cliff-hangers, heartbreakers, and garden-variety defeats totalling 100 will make this a real "Party of the Century", as the Cubs owners call it.
We'll keep you posted periodically on the magic number. We could be wrong about the potential of this year's club, of course. "I think we have a team right now that can go to the playoffs," owner Tom Ricketts said as spring training opened this year. "Every few years it happens somewhere that there are teams that flip it around in one season. We have a good young nucleus . . . and we have a lot of positive energy coming through. We think it can happen."
Right now the playoffs look doubtful, unless baseball introduces a wild, wild, wild card. After only 20 games, the Cubs are in last, eight games out of first.