Saturday, August 14, 2010

Just Something About Cubs, Cardinals on a Saturday

I usually hate Cubs/Cardinals games,
but Saturdays are the exception.
I hate it when the Cubs play the Cardinals. I've called it the worst rivalry in sports. Beating the Cardinals usually comes more as a relief than a cause for great joy. If the Cardinals win, I hear it from their fans. If the Cubs win, I hear about how many championships the Cardinals have won since the Cubs' last World Series. I believe it's more than one.

I also hate it when Cubs games are televised on FOX. I don't like the announcers. I don't like the graphics. I don't like the way the entire broadcast seems to find the elusive mix of patronizing affection and professional disdain for everything associated with the Chicago National League ball club. The games take longer. They never seem to start at a good time. I'm whining, I know, but baseball on FOX is stupid.

But for some odd reason (maybe something to do with a certain game in which a certain Hall of Fame Cub second baseman hit two home runs off a Hall of Fame ex-Cub and then-Cardinal closer) I have a strong, strange affinity for Saturday afternoon Cubs/Cardinals games, even the ones broadcast on FOX. There's a mystique about them. As much as I like to say the Cardinals suck, on these Saturday afternoon telecasts, I renew my respect for the franchise and their fans, even if for only a three-hour period.

Carlos Zambrano is usually good for something memorable.
Something positive? We'll see.
It feels like the Olympics. Or a Rocky movie. Somehow the teams seem both more familiar than usual and more superhuman. It's as though I'm watching people I know elevate themselves to some Valhallan stage where every pitch carries eternal significance, every at-bat an audition for immortality.

Maybe that's a bit much (a bit, you ask?) but that's how it feels. Any other day it's just the irritating tradition of surviving the attacks or suffering at the hands of the despised Cardinals, but on Saturday afternoons . . . it's altogether different.

The other factor contributing to the feeling that this more than just another weary game against another superior opponent on the way to the finish line of another dismal season is that Carlos Zambrano is pitching. It's been quite awhile since that signified the likelihood of a start that would last into the 9th inning or a Wrigley scoreboard peppered with harmless white zeros. (Yes, I know they're playing at Busch. Leave my imagery alone.) But today in enemy territory against the Cardinals' ace, Chris Carpenter, I have the feeling Zambrano might just rise to the occasion. I don't think he will. Actually, the part of my brain that controls the typing is all but refusing to type this next part: I feel like he's going to pitch a gem of historic proportions.

I have zero logical foundation for that feeling. None. Zambrano's velocity is down. His control is shaky. His emotions are monitored on a moment-by-moment basis. But this is Saturday. Against the Cardinals. On FOX. And my stupid, irrational, unreliable, foolish, desperately optimistic gut is telling me we might look back on today as the Zambrano game.

My brain is saying it will be known as one of those Pujols games.
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