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Cubs’ playoff push takes a turn with Kosuke Fukudome gone

Kosuke Fukudome connects for his 5th hit game 8th  inning Chicago Cubs/Colorado Rockies game Monday April 25 2011 Wrigley

Kosuke Fukudome connects for his 5th hit of the game in the 8th inning of the Chicago Cubs/Colorado Rockies game Monday April 25, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 2, 2011 12:44AM



It is with great sorrow that I inform you of the death of a dream.

The incredible playoff push that had captivated so many of us this week is history. On Thursday, the Cubs traded outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to the Cleveland Indians for two minor-leaguers.

It all seems so fleeting right now, like a wisp of a cloud scurrying across the sky. I know that will change with time. I know that, eventually, I’ll have warm memories to clutch to my chest forever.

I know that I’ll always have Tuesday, July 26, and Wednesday, July 27. Oh, the unbridled belief I felt during that 48-hour period! The surge of confidence that manager Mike ‘‘I’m Not a Lunatic’’ Quade induced! I’ll look back on those two joyful, carefree days and be reminded of a time when anything seemed possible.

Right now, though, it hurts. One minute, I was watching to see what the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates were doing as it related to the Cubs; the next, I was being told there was nothing to see and to move along. One minute, I was thinking about October playoff trips to Philadelphia or San Francisco; the next, I was being told, in so many words, that a timeshare in Muskegon might be a better fit for me.

On Tuesday, Quade insisted that his Cubs still had a chance in the National League Central race. The facts seemed to dispute that. In fact, the facts had a good belly laugh about that.

But what did I care about facts? Here was the manager of the Cubs, his team 18 games below .500 and 12 games out of first place at the time, telling me that hope not only was alive but appeared to be break-dancing.

‘‘What if you win 10 out of 12?’’ he said. ‘‘Who the hell knows?”

Why so much disbelief?

He was right. Who among us really knew? Quade was standing on a sleeping giant that by all appearances seemed to be doing a spot-on imitation of a dead hedgehog. But if the maximum leader of the Cubs believed so strongly in his club, he must have been privy to some inside information. Maybe something about Tony Campana finding a power source no one knew he had in his 5-8, 165-pound frame.

And so what if the Cubs proceeded to lose the next two games to the Brewers after Quade’s call-to-arms speech? What was that to a team with so many bigger fish to fry? Destiny wanted the comeback to be more dramatic and the story to be more corny. Nothing wrong with that.

Quade insisted he wasn’t a lunatic for suggesting a pennant run was possible, even though he was being measured for a hospital gown before he could get the first two syllables of the word ‘‘lunatic’’ out of his mouth. He simply was stating the obvious: that the Cubs, despite what had been one of the most miserable seasons in the miserable history of the franchise, were clearly on the brink of something special. If a three-game sweep of the worst team in baseball, the Astros, wasn’t proof enough, then you were a skeptic beyond his powers of persuasion.

But then came Thursday, a day of darkness. Fukudome, so obviously on the cusp of realizing the potential suggested in the four-year, $48 million contract he signed in 2008, was headed to Cleveland. In return, the Indians were sending outfielder Abner Abreu and pitcher Carlton Smith, both prospects, to the North Side.

Where some of us view Fukudome as a colossal bust for the money the Cubs were paying him, Quade is the kind of positive thinker who would say we had it all wrong, that Fuke was the reincarnation of Roberto Clemente. Who knew?

Ricketts was right all along

But wait a second. Let’s think about this some more. Could it be that the Cubs aren’t being sellers as the trade deadline approaches? Could it be that, all indications to the contrary, they’re actually in a buying mode? Is it possible that the playoff push is very much still on, with Tyler Colvin up from the minors to take Fukudome’s place? That what we’re witnessing is a youth movement with benefits?

When Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts told me in early June that nothing was wrong with his baseball team other than injuries, I scoffed. The team lacked talent and made a lot of dumb mistakes, a very bad combination. But as I look back on it now, I realize that Ricketts’ enthusiasm was not misplaced; it was simply ahead of its time. And as I look at the Fukudome trade, I realize that what appears to be the end of a dream is actually the start of a new one. Something tells me Quade sees it the same way I do.

The Cubs lost 4-2 to the Brewers on Thursday, dropping their record to 42-63 and leaving them 141/2 games out of first place in the NL Central. It was their third loss in a row.

And you know what that means.

Playoffs, baby.



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