After coming up short yet again in yesterday’s 8-6 loss to Milwaukee, the Cubs’ Mark Prior can probably look to any number of physical/mechanical issues to explain his crummy showing in 2006.  The Chicago Sun-Times’ Greg Couch suggests the issue runs far deeper.

He has won only one game this year. Is his confidence gone?

”Not confidence,” he said. ”Things don’t match up upstairs with physically what I’m trying to do.”

That’s the problem now. It’s not the flu, the shoulder strain that he swore was a tear, the oblique muscles sore from sneezing, the little regripping of the curveball. All these strange, tiny things.

Prior has become the biggest mystery man in baseball. And while he has been a physical mess, the real problem has moved upstairs. He can say that it’s not an issue of confidence, but when an athlete’s body stops doing what his mind is telling it, then there’s a big problem.

A guy who once challenged Barry Bonds now nibbles away, afraid to throw the ball over the plate.

When Prior goes on the DL, it seems less like the Disabled List than the Disinclined List. Does it ever really seem that he’s not able?

It’s always some confusing thing, something wacky.

”The goat’s starting to look real,” he said a few weeks ago.

Oh, please. Not the goat curse.

A few weeks ago in New York, he had a no-hitter going with two out in the sixth inning. He had thrown 103 pitches, and it looked like he hobbled a little after a play. Dusty Baker called for a relief pitcher.

Now, we can’t get into Prior’s head, can’t tell how hurt he really is. That’s the mystery. But I do know this: If Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson had a no-hitter that late in a game, and a manager tried to remove him, there would have been a fight right there, dust flying on the mound.

A scout from an opposing team casually referred to Prior recently as Mrs. Prior. That’s how they talk in the sports world. And it’s also exactly the sort of snickering that has been spreading.