As the Cubs continue to look for ways to score runs without Sammy Sosa, the pitching staff has the extra burden of trying to be too perfect.
But even the most proficient of staffs can't hold down the hottest-hitting team in baseball for long, as the Cubs discovered Sunday in a 5-4 loss to Toronto in 10 innings. Reed Johnson's solo home run off Mark Guthrie leading off the 10th gave the Blue Jays the rubber game of the series, dealing the Cubs their first extra-inning loss in seven games.
"I don't know where they got those guys from," manager Dusty Baker said of Johnson and infielder Howie Clark, who had some key hits Friday and Saturday. "They kind of hurt us big in the series, more than the big boys. That's our first extra-inning loss and our first one-run loss in a long time."
With the Cubs trailing 2-0 in the sixth, Troy O'Leary hit a two-out grand slam off Cory Lidle for a 4-2 lead.
But Shawn Estes couldn't hold it. He gave up back-to-back doubles to Carlos Delgado and Tom Wilson to start the bottom of the sixth, and the Jays tied it on Chris Woodward's RBI single.
The Cubs had chances to go ahead in the eighth and ninth innings but stranded runners on third on both occasions.
"We had opportunities late," Baker said. "We just couldn't get that two-out hit."
The Cubs lost their first interleague series of the season after taking two of three from Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees and Baltimore. Estes induced four double-play grounders, which helped make up for his six walks. He lasted six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits, but ran out of gas in his final inning.
The Cubs' offense has been on a slide since Opening Day, when they knocked out 16 hits in a 15-2 win over the Mets. They hit .265 in March/April, followed that with .252 in May and are hitting .198 in June. In their five games with Sosa on the suspended list, the Cubs are hitting .240, and of their 41 hits, they have only one homer, one triple and six doubles.
Still, they have managed to stay at or near the top of the NL Central.
"We usually follow up a bad game with a win the next day," general manager Jim Hendry said. "We haven't had too many prolonged losing streaks. I give the club a lot of credit for their character and resiliency.
"Some guys have stepped up when Sammy hasn't been the Sammy we all know. Even before the suspension, the [toe] injury took its toll on him. Then the length of time being off, it takes a while to get in a groove. He was just starting to get there in the Yankees series, and now he's out again."
Considering that Sosa has been missing for one-third of their games and wasn't hitting for power when he was playing, the Cubs are counting their blessings.
"You couldn't be displeased with what's going on, considering some of the distractions we've had and some of the situations with Sammy being hurt and not being as productive as we're used to seeing him," Hendry said. "The other guys have rallied around it. We know we're going to need him being the Sammy of old if to continue to stay in [the race]."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times