Cubs Fall Short After Overhaul

Monday, October 8th 2007, 10:42 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ For most of their first season under manager Lou Piniella, the Chicago Cubs reveled in the home atmosphere of Wrigley Field, where fans came in record numbers to join the party.

The fun run ended Saturday night. Instead, the old neighborhood ballpark was filled with loud boos, especially for Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, as the Cubs were swept out of the first round of the NL playoffs by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Even though the Cubs went from worst-to-first by winning the NL Central, it still wasn't good enough. The drought without a World Series title now stretches to 99 years and counting.

``Right now, you're going to view it as a disappointment. There's no other way to view it,'' said second baseman Mark DeRosa, one of the major acquisitions in a $300 million spending spree last offseason.

``We're shocked right now. I don't think there's a guy in here who expected this to happen. I think when we have a couple weeks to let it sink in, obviously, the moves we made in the offseason _ with the guys that were already here _ to take a team that lost 90-some odd games and turn it into a division title has got to be viewed as a success. But all in all, you don't get the overall goal accomplished, it's tough to look at any other way.''

And when the Cubs do reconvene in Mesa, Ariz., in February, the team will likely be under new ownership. The Tribune Co., which has owned the team since 1981, is expected to complete a sale during the offseason. The futures of president John McDonough and general manager Jim Hendry are uncertain.

As Tribune Co. officials, including Sam Zell, the man who is taking over the company, watched from the seats Saturday night, the Cubs floundered in a 5-1 loss.

Their bats simply went flat in the opening series of the postseason. Team RBIs leader Ramirez was 0-for-12 and Soriano, who had 14 homers in September, went 2-for-14.

The Cubs didn't get an RBI from Ramirez, Soriano or Derrek Lee. Chicago scored six runs in the three games and was 2-for-23 with runners in scoring position. They hit into four double plays in Game 3.

All that overshadows what happened in the six previous months _ how the Cubs rallied from a slow start and overcame an 8 1/2-game deficit in late June to overtake Milwaukee for the division title.

``We're OK because we made the playoffs, but it did not go like it was supposed to go. We did not go to the World Series,'' said Soriano, who reaped a $136 million contract. ``You lose, so it's not a good season. We lost in the first round of the playoffs; we're supposed to go to the World Series and win the World Series.''

That's what Cubs fans have been hoping would happen. Chicago hasn't made the World Series since 1945 and hasn't won it since 1908.

``This is just the start, fellas,'' Piniella said. ``We're going to get better. It is disappointing but, you know, no matter how far you go up the ladder in baseball, you don't win a World Series, you're going to find disappointment somewhere along the way.''

For years the Cubs have had to answer questions about curses and strange occurrences _ a tavern owner jinxing them for ejecting his goat from the 1945 World Series; a black cat running across the field in 1969 and a sizable lead evaporating against the Mets; a colossal collapse after a fan deflected a foul ball in the 2003 NLCS when the World Series was five outs away.

It's part of the team's lore. There will be a couple of additions from this season. Like Piniella's early-June, dirt-kicking tantrum against an umpire that got the team on a roll; a fight in the dugout and then clubhouse between temperamental ace Carlos Zambrano and his catcher Michael Barrett; and Piniella's decision to yank Zambrano after six innings in Game 1 against Arizona when the game was tied 1-1, saying he wanted to keep him fresh for a Game 4 that never came.

``He's been good for us all year long. If he made a mistake, I don't know,'' Zambrano said. Reliever Carlos Marmol, who'd been effective all season, replaced Zambrano and gave up a go-ahead homer in a 3-1 loss, and the Diamondbacks were on their way to an improbable sweep.

``We have a good bullpen, Marmol's pitching great for us this year. You have confidence in Marmol. I have confidence in Marmol,'' Zambrano said.

Zambrano, who at one point in the season criticized the fans for booing him before later apologizing, went 18-13 during a streaky season and got a $91.5 million contract extension. Left-hander Ted Lilly won 15 and illustrated the Cubs' postseason frustration by slamming his glove to the ground after giving up a homer to Chris Young in Game 2.

The 64-year-old Piniella, often showing his sense of humor more than his famed temper, mostly made the right moves. He mixed and matched his personnel to develop a lineup that worked and produced an 85-77 record.

But he acknowledged it was a team that could get hot and then fall in a run-scoring rut just as quickly.

Their latest cold streak came at the worst time.

``We gave ourselves a chance. Not one of us in here was just happy to get to the playoffs,'' veteran outfielder Cliff Floyd said.

``We thought that we were going to have that wrapped up early. We felt like we should win the NL Central from Day 1. We stayed together as a unit, as a family, and that's what hurts more _ that we're going home when we thought we had everything we needed to get to the next level.''