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Is this the Swoon?

Long time fans of the Chicago Cubs are painfully familiar with a phenomenon known as the June Swoon. Far too often in the post-WWII era, the Cubs would dash out of the gate, raising the hopes of the faithful that this was finally Next Year, only to choke, fade, collapse, and fall back to the pack — or to the back of the back — about two months into the season. Hence June Swoon.

I hate to say this because I’m really not a fickle fan, but after this week’s series in Tampa, I’m starting to get that Bartman feeling again.

I refer, of course, to Steve Bartman, the poor schlub who knocked a fly ball away from Cubs left fielder Moises Alou in Game 5 of the 2003 LCS, turning what would have been the third out of the inning into the impetus for a Florida Marlins rally. True to form, the Cubs imploded faster than the plot of a SciFi Channel Original Movie and the Marlins went on to win the World Series.

This year appeared different. The Cubs made it through the first half of the month with a record of 10-4, and were the only team in baseball that hadn’t lost more than two in a row this season.

Then they ventured into the home town of Cubs manager Lou Piniella to take on the Tampa Bay Rays, a team Piniella managed with moderate success a couple of years ago. The Rays, although they’re playing winning baseball this year, are the shore upon which the flotsam and jetsam of major league baseball is beached.

Quick — name one player for the Rays.

Thought so.

Anyway, the Cubs lost the first game of the series when the bullpen failed to hold a 6th-inning tie. The second game went to the Rays as Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano turned in his second straight sub-par performance and may have injured his shoulder in the process. The difference in the game was a first-inning three-base error by converted infielder Mark Derosa, who allowed a line drive to bounce off his glove while filling in for injured (again) left fielder Alfonso Soriano.

Last night, it looked like the Cubs would hold to their pattern this year and stop the losing streak at only two games. They were ahead 3-1 in the 7th, and the Cubs trio of dominant relief pitchers — Marmol, Eyre, and Wood — were rested and ready to close out the last three innings.

Then the wheels fell off.

The 25-year-old Marmol, who’s been absolutely unhittable this season (his OBA is a miniscule .126, for you stat geeks), walked the first two batters he faced. Then he proceeded to hit the next two.

That was enough; Lou called for lefty Scott Eyre, who’d just set a team-record of 30+ consecutive appearances without allowing a run. On his second pitch, the Rays’ Carl Crawford hit a grand slam.

For good measure, the Rays added another run with a triple and a double off Eyre before Lou sent him to the showers.

It’s only three games, I know, and the team’s record for June is still a respectable 10-7. But I can’t help thinking…

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