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Nothing funny about Cubs loss
After throwing the ceremonial first pitch into the stands before Sunday night's game at Wrigley Field, actor Bill Murray went out to home plate for the pregame meeting with the umpires.
Before leaving, Murray managed to slip some money into the pockets of all four umps.
But even Chicago-style lobbying couldn't help the Cubs, who continued their free-fall with a 7-2 loss to Atlanta, dropping to .500 at the All-Star break.
After losing three of four to the Braves, the Cubs are 11-20 over their last 31 games and three games behind Houston.
The Cubs rank 12th in the league in runs scored and are hitting .244 with runners in scoring position. After grounding into three more double plays, they're on pace for 157, which would be four shy of the franchise record of 161, set in 1933.
Manager Dusty Baker said the Cubs are "two players short."
"But in the mean time, we've got to do a better job out here," he said. "You can wait on the cavalry for help if you want to, but sometimes in the movies they don't come. We have to defend ourselves until that time comes."
Carlos Zambrano suffered through his worst outing, allowing seven runs on eight hits and four walks in five innings. Shane Reynolds, who came in with a 6.78 earned-run average over his previous 14 starts, held the Cubs to one run over six innings, improving to 7-4.
The Cubs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third when Tom Goodwin scored from second on a two-out, infield hit by Sammy Sosa, but the Braves answered back with two in the fourth.
After Sosa popped up to end the fifth with two men on, the Braves knocked Zambrano out with a five-run sixth, ignited by back-to-back walks to Chipper and Andruw Jones. Robert Fick's two-run double made it 4-1, and Zambrano (6-8) got the hook after Castilla singled home his 10th run of the series.
Despite the slump, Baker remains optimistic.
"It's been a tremendous fight," Baker said. "The guys have played hard. We need to improve in a few areas, but at the same time, I'm proud of how these guys have responded and how they're hung in there through some adverse times and situations. Every team goes through good times and hot streaks. We haven't had one yet. It's been a pleasant struggle."
The term "pleasant struggle" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's probably an apt description of the start of the Baker era.
The Cubs have experienced Sosa's beaning, toe injury and corked bat suspension, Mark Prior's plunking of Barry Bonds, Hee Seop Choi's collision with Kerry Wood, Prior's collision with Marcus Giles, Kyle Farnsworth's takedown of Paul Wilson, Corey Patterson's breakout season and season-ending knee injury, the rise of Joe Borowski and the fall of Antonio Alfonseca.
Baker insists the Cubs have the personnel to turn it all around. "It's hard to turn a loser into a winner," Baker said. "Unless you have winning people."