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Cubs Fear

Oh, boy, that didn't take long, did it? The full-blown Cubs Fear is back, coast-to-coast. It only took one game. A 7-2 loss in Wrigley Field to the barely over .500 Dodgers.

But the fear is justified.

Lou Piniella almost had more choices for his Game 1 pitcher than he had fingers -- and he picked Ryan Dempster. So logical on the surface -- 17 wins and a 2.96 ERA. But, under the surface, so Cub. A 31-year-old career sub-.500 pitcher with a 4.55 ERA and a goofy glove-flipping delivery. A converted reliever who was back to starting again and had hit 206 innings. Worst, Dempster is the lifelong journeyman who had predicted a Cubs world title in spring training. With 20-20 hindsight, you almost feel bad for him.

What a gag! I just watched the replay. Even uglier than game accounts led me to believe. Nervous from the first pitch. Walked seven despite the Dodgers constantly chasing pitches and being given gifts by the ump on 3-0 pitches that should have been "ball four." He could have walked 10. Did not have command of any of his pitches. Over-throwing. By the end, on the pitching coach visit to the mound before James Loney's grand slam, he looked like he was jumping out of his skin. Then he throws a1-2 splitter right down the middle. Except for the cross wind, which knocked down the ball, Loney's homer would have been halfway up the center field bleachers. And a 2-0 Cubs lead on a "pitcher's wind" night in Wrigely turns into a 4-2 Dodger lead with Joe Torre smiling and Manny Ramirez hitting a preposterous homer to left off a pitch off his shoe tops. Now, if the series goes to Game 5, do the Cubs let Dempster pitch it?

All season I've thought this was the Cubs team that would win the Series. Not could but would. But the hardest huddle is often the first five-game division playoff because it is such an over-in-a-blink tension-packed oddity. If you split at home to start the series, you may never get back home. And if lose both games at home, you're chances, though still alive -- especially if you are the better full-season team, as the Cubs are -- become tiny.

So it's Carlos (No-Hitter or Famine) Zambrano, shelled in his last two games, who starts for the Cubs tonight against the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14) who has excellent stuff and had a better '08 ERA than Zambrano (3.91). Talk about a huge game, even an historic game for the Cubs. If they win, you still like their chances. If they don't, they'll be seeing Billy Goats in their sleep.

The bailout to save world capitalism? Wait until tomorrow. The vice-presidential debate? Half-an-hour should be enough. I'll be switching to the Cubs-Dodgers at 9:30 p.m.

By Thomas Boswell  |  October 2, 2008; 1:27 PM ET
Categories:  Cubs  
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