Op/Ed: Stress Test

The Cubs decided to take a novel approach to end the delusional contention that Steve Stone and Chip Caray are overly critical of the team's performance – start playing better baseball so that the announcers wouldn't have anything to criticize.

Sure enough, just when it appeared the Cubs were on the verge of bungling their way out of the Wildcard race, the team is gellin' (and not like a felon, either) against league doormats and now control their own destiny.

While fans expect the Cubs to win every game against these inferior clubs, it isn't that simple when you have young players looking to impress management for 2005. For example, look at the Orioles, who have proved to be a thorn in the side of both the Yankees and Red Sox the past two series as evidence that there is no such thing as a guaranteed victory.

The next week is going to be stressful for fans (okay, I guess for the players and coaches, too), so here is a primer on how the week might shape up and how I plan on surviving it.

Saturday, September 25 – It is 1:45 PM and the Cub offense has not solved Aaron Heilman yet, so the team trails 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth. I take a strategically timed bathroom break, turning the television up loud, and hear that Derrek Lee just smashed a two-run homer to give the Cubs the lead. I arrive at the logical conclusion that the Cub fortunes turned when I went to the bathroom, so I spend the next 90 minutes on the can listening to the Cubs pull out a 5-3 victory.

Sunday, September 26 – The weather is gorgeous and I decide it would be brilliant to bring the television out to my deck. In the process of positioning the television away from the sun's glare, I drop it 25 feet into my neighbors' yard, where the set breaks into hundreds of pieces. I ignore several dozen doorbell rings from enraged neighbor, who eventually wises up that me yelling "No Habla English. Go away" is somewhat contradictory. In the process, Al Leiter outduels Kerry Wood and the Cubs fall 3-2.

Monday, September 27 and Tuesday, September 28 – Still recovering from a tequila bender induced by the Cub loss on Sunday, I sleep through the first two games of the Cincinnati series. When I finally come to on the front lawn, I realize someone has written "Farnsworth is a hunk" on my chest in red lipstick, and also that the Cubs won both games handily to extend their wildcard lead to over the Giants.

Wednesday, September 29 and Thursday, September 30 – On Wednesday, I spend the afternoon game yelling at the Home Plate umpire based on the Gameday strike zone box on my computer at work, as if each red and green circle coincides precisely with the actual location of the pitch. The Cubs fall 8-5, so I conclude a new setting is required for Thursday. I tell my boss, for the 18th time this season, that my son has a doctor appointment and I can't come into work. Good news is the Cubs win 11-2. Bad news is I am no longer gainfully employed.

Friday, October 1 – Playoff tickets go on sale this morning. After three hours in the virtual online waiting room, I determine there is virtually no chance any real Cub fan ever gets a ticket in here. Thankfully, I give up just in time for first pitch against the Braves. Less than three hours later, the last pitch is thrown, and it isn't a good one. Cubs fall 5-1 but remain one game up in the Wildcard race.

Saturday, October 2Moises Alou works himself out of a mini-slump by drinking seven gallons of Gatorade and then heading to the bathroom stalls (arms extended). After slamming his bat down on a questionable strike three in his first at-bat, Alou crushes a pair of homers to lead the Cubs to a 10-4 victory. The Giants and Astros, both one game back entering Saturday, also win, meaning the Cubs can earn the Wildcard spot by winning Sunday.

Sunday, October 3 – I wake up at 4 a.m., wondering if WGN might have a special pre-game show that starts soon. My hands start sweating as the game draws closer, and after a few innings the Cubs are down. I console myself with the fact that thousands of Cub fans now have worthless playoff tickets. Then, the Cubs inch closer. The game is tight, my wife yells to the basement that she is running off with her personal trainer, but only half listening, I think she says that she is off to the store to pick up some reindeer. I wish her good luck and refocus on the game. Entering the ninth inning, the Cubs are clinging to a one-run lead. The call is made for Hawkins. The season hangs in the balance. And then...

To Be Continued.

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