Estes' 2 errors help Expos to big lead

Dusty Baker was giving a brief assessment of Shawn Estes on Thursday morning, shortly before the left-hander would make his Wrigley Field debut in a Cubs uniform.

"The main thing is to get off to a good start and hopefully get out of the early innings," the Cubs' manager said. "Because usually when he has trouble, it's in the early innings."

Prescient Baker was.

Trouble followed Estes again Thursday when a four-run first inning proved impossible to overcome in a 7-1 loss to Montreal.

Estes contributed to his demise with two of the Cubs' three first-inning errors. Though he managed to settle down and last six innings, the Cubs were never really in the game.

"I've been around too long to make plays like that," Estes said of his two first-inning throwing errors. "Pitching and defense win games, and [Thursday] I didn't have my defense. I made my pitches. I just didn't execute the plays."

The Expos avoided a sweep of the three-game series, striking out 14 Cubs one day after striking out 15.

Just as Montreal ace Javier Vazquez set a career high with 14 strikeouts in a losing effort Wednesday, Tony Armas Jr. (1-1) established a career-high with 11 Thursday, shutting out the Cubs on three hits through seven innings.

Montreal's combined 29 strikeouts in two games broke the Expos' club record of 28, set in 1980.

"I prefer aggression whenever possible," Baker said. "A lot of times you're fouling off pitches that ordinarily you put into play, which puts you in a two-strike situation. So it wasn't strikeouts that beat us. It was Armas and ourselves."

Estes acknowledged being "my own worst enemy" during the Expos' four-run first.

After Jose Vidro reached on a bunt single, Vladimir Guerrero grounded to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who surprised second baseman Mark Grudzielanek by throwing to second for a possible force.

Grudzielanek dropped the relay for an error, leaving two on with one out.

Wil Cordero singled home the first run before Estes fielded a topper off the bat of Orlando Cabrera and flung it into right field, bringing home two more runs.

It only got worse for Estes, who deflected Fernando Tatis' shot up the middle only to make an errant throw to the plate that allowed the fourth run to score.

"A couple of those plays, I probably should have eaten the ball," Estes said. "I probably tried to make something happen that wasn't there."

The Cubs came into the game with only five errors, almost equaling their season total on a four-error afternoon.

"That's about a week and a half worth of errors," Baker said. "You hope we don't play a game like that for a long time."

By the time Estes got in a groove, the Cubs were trailing 5-0 after two innings. Last Friday in Cincinnati, he helped the Cubs into an early seven-run hole before they tied the game and eventually lost by one run.

The Cubs signed Estes for $3 million after his 5-12 season, hoping a reunion with Baker would bring back his old form.

"We know the ability and talent is there," Baker said. "It's just a matter of getting out of those first couple of innings."