One day after Mark Prior was hit on his right elbow by a line drive, a Chicago sports-radio station repeatedly played "Taps" to mourn the demise of the Cubs' season.
But after the Cubs extended their winning streak to seven Thursday night, 5-0 over San Diego at Petco Park, reports of their death appeared to be greatly exaggerated.
Glendon Rusch blanked the Padres on four hits, all singles, in his first shutout since June 25, 2002. He threw a season-high 122 pitches, giving the bullpen the night off.
"My bullpen is a little spent and some guys needed some days off, and that was just what the doctor ordered," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
"We went more pitches than we wanted him to, but when you've got a chance for a complete-game shutout, you've got to go for it."
Jeromy Burnitz's two-run double in the third inning gave Rusch an early cushion, Aramis Ramirez and Jason Dubois added run-scoring singles in the sixth, and Todd Walker homered in the seventh.
Not to be outdone, red-hot Derrek Lee smoked his 1,000th career hit and went 3-for-3 with a pair of walks, leaving him with eight hits in his last eight at-bats, one shy of Sammy Sosa's club record set in 1993. Lee has 10 hits in his last 11 at-bats and is hitting .389.
"I've never seen anything like it," Rusch said. "It's incredible. Everything he's doing is helping us win ballgames, and he's playing great defense. He's got to be the MVP of everywhere right now."
The Cubs moved to within 5 1/2 games of NL Central-leading St. Louis after being left for dead only a couple of weeks ago. The last time they won seven straight was in 2001 under Don Baylor.
"It's not a surprise," Baker said. "It's welcome. The Padres did the same thing. They struggled for the first month or so, got hot in May and had an outstanding May."
The Padres entered the night with a major-league-best 18-5 home record and 22 wins in their previous 29 games dating back to May 1. But Rusch (5-1) dominated from the outset as the NL West leaders lost consecutive games for only the second time in 32 games.
Besides his pitching mastery, Rusch performed some acrobatics in the field.
First he made a nifty shovel pass to Lee with his mitt in the sixth, retiring Dave Roberts on Lee's barehanded grab. Then Rusch added to his repertoire in the ninth, reaching behind his back to nab Geoff Blum's shot and retire him easily at first.
The Cubs pounded out 12 hits, their seventh straight game with 10 or more hits. The last time they had eight straight 10-hit games occurred in 1952.
Prior's injury was cause for widespread panic by some fans, but the Cubs haven't lost since he was hurt. Rusch, Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux have picked up the slack on the mound, and the offense finally is starting to show signs of life.
"When we lost Prior, for some reason the offense started to realize it's time," catcher Michael Barrett said.
"If there has ever been a time for us to pick it up, it was then and there."
Barrett believes no one took the poor start as hard as Baker. Though it's part of Baker's job to stay positive and upbeat, Barrett knew it was killing his manager as he watched his team find new and bizarre ways to lose ballgames.
"At this point we're all in the same boat," Barrett said. "I think even Dusty feels the same way as the fans.
"I think Dusty would be the first one to boo himself--and that's what makes him a great leader. He's as hard on himself as any fan.
"It's hard sometimes when you're leading a ballclub that he wants so desperately to win as much as, if not more, than the fans. When things aren't going well, it's hard not to blame yourself. I think we all were having a tough time looking at ourselves in the mirror, but we pulled through it, and hopefully it's like the Bulls.
"Remember, the Bulls started out 0-9. We didn't get off to a great start, but now things are starting to turn around, and I think we're a lot closer-knit group."
Cubs 5, Padres 0