Game Thirty-Six – Cubs 5 Astros 6
WP – Brian Moehler (1-2) LP – Rich Harden (4-2) Save – Chris Sampson (1)
The Cubs’ five-game winning streak came to an end on Sunday after another dramatic ninth inning. The Cubs took an early 2-0 lead after run scoring doubles by Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee in the third inning but could not capitalize against Brian Moehler. The Cubs could not tack on to the lead and failed to take advantage of runners on second and third no outs.
The Astros scored four runs in the top of the fourth off Rich Harden, the most runs he’s allowed in one inning since June of 2004. Lance Berkman led off with a double and scored on a one-out double by Miguel Tejada. Geoff Blum tied the game with a single to right.
Ivan Rodriguez gave the Astros the lead with the 300th home run of his career, a two-run shot into the first row of the bleachers in left center.
Derrek Lee had his best offensive game in a long time. Lee hit his fourth home run of the year in the fifth off Brian Moehler that cut the Astros lead to 4-3. Lee finished the day 4-for-5 with a home run, a double, two RBI and a run scored.
Rich Harden left after six and one bad inning. He surrendered four runs on six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. Harden’s struggles pitching during the day appeared to subside early on just to resurface during the four-run fourth inning.
Jose Ascanio made his second appearance of the year and his wildness in the seventh contributed to the loss. Ascanio hit Kaz Matsui and Michael Bourn on consecutive pitches to start the inning. Lance Berkman drove in the Astros’ fifth run with a single to right and Bourn scored on a wild pitch from Ascanio on the first pitch to Carlos Lee.
Ascanio pitched a perfect eighth and if not for an error by Bobby Scales in the ninth, Neal Cotts would have set the Astros down in order. Cotts pitched around the error and a two-out walk. The Cubs’ bullpen, like Harden, had one bad inning. The Astros scored all six of the runs in the fourth and seventh innings.
The Cubs offense put the tying run in scoring position in the ninth…and nearly pulled off another comeback. Alfonso Soriano hit his twelfth home run of the year, a solo shot to left with one-out off Chris Sampson.
After a lineout to short by Ryan Theriot, Kosuke Fukudome reached on an infield single and advanced to second on Derrek Lee’s fourth hit of the afternoon….a single to center. Milton Bradley drove in Kosuke with a single to left. The stage was set for Geovany Soto.
With Derrek Lee at second and Milton Bradley at first, Soto worked the count to 3-2 with a very patient at bat but ended up lining out to third to end the game.
Lou Piniella’s crew never quit but the importance of every single inning of a ballgame was magnified on Sunday. The Cubs lost to the Astros for only the second time in seven games and finished the rain-shortened homestand with a 4-1 record. Even with all of the injuries, problems in the pen and several of the key offensive players struggling, the Cubs are 21-15 after 36 games…same record as last season following 36 games.
The Cubs lost for only the third time all season when they score four or more runs (21-3). The momentum of the entire game changed in the third inning and once the Astros took the lead in the top of the fourth, the Cubs appeared for a short time to be willing just to chalk Sunday up as to one of those games a team losses during the season. But Derrek Lee kept hitting and Alfonso Soriano appeared to relax the entire team with his home run in the ninth.
Brian Moehler was lifted after five innings, up by a score of 4-3, and Tim Byrdak shut the Cubs’ offense down quickly in the sixth. Alberto Arias retired the Cubs in order in the seventh with three groundball outs…and, as mentioned, the Cubs appeared satisfied with a split of the two-game series at that point. They quit working the count and swung early and often against Byrdak and Arias. That changed in the bottom of the eighth.
Derrek Lee led off the eighth with a single to left on the first pitch from Arias. Milton Bradley grounded out to second, Lee was forced but Soto followed with a single to center. With runners on first and second with one out, Cecil Cooper brought in Chris Sampson, his best reliever to face Mike Fontenot.
Lou Piniella stuck with the struggling Fontenot and he put together a solid at bat. Fontenot worked the count to 3-2 before grounding out to Kaz Matsui. Soto was forced at second and Bobby Scales flied out to center to end the inning…a questionable call at the time not inserting Micah Hoffpauir for Fontenot who is marred in a slump right now.
The ninth inning was just a case of too little too late against a very good pitcher that will probably be closing games in the near future for the Houston Astros.
Sunday was one of those games, when all is said and done, that teams lose during a long season. It was really good to see them not quit and Derrek Lee driving the ball all afternoon….
The Cubs will spend Monday traveling to St. Louis. Ted Lilly will open the three-game series on Tuesday night against the Redbirds. It is unclear as of this writing if Lilly will face Kyle Lohse or Joel Pineiro. The Brewers and Cardinals play their makeup from Friday’s rainout on Monday and Chris Carpenter is expected to be activated and pitch either Wednesday or Thursday against the Cubs.