The Cubs have been tested so many times this season they've grown accustomed to overcoming adversity.
Gnats, corked bats, injuries and offensive meltdowns haven't deterred them thus far. But if Kerry Wood's lower-back pains don't subside in the next day or two, the Cubs may be in for their stiffest test to date.
Wood was wild and ineffective Saturday in a 10-5 loss to Los Angeles, failing to get out of the third inning. Manager Dusty Baker said Wood's status for his next start Thursday in Houston is in limbo.
"We'll see how he is," Baker said. "We have the option [of skipping Wood]."
With the loss, the Cubs' stay in first place in the National League Central lasted less than 24 hours as they dropped a half-game behind Houston. They hadn't been in first after 121 games since they won the East Division title in 1989.
Reports of Wood's back problems surfaced July 30 after a loss to San Francisco, but he shrugged them off at the time.
"We knew a couple weeks ago he had a little discomfort," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
"But he's been throwing awfully well, and [Wood] is not going to tell you unless it's really bad ... it's been one of those things that comes and goes with him."
Wood left Saturday without meeting the media.
While it's doubtful Wood would have to skip his next start, Baker said Shawn Estes could replace Wood if necessary.
Wood lasted only 22/3 innings in the 90-degree heat, allowing five runs on five hits with four walks, all of which came around to score.
It was Wood's shortest outing since May 22, 2000, when he was lifted after 11/3 innings against St. Louis in his first season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery.
He labored through 75 pitches Saturday, throwing only 44 strikes.
"Everyone was feeling the heat," Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa said. "It makes you a little bit more concerned about him, and on top of that he was hurt."
Since the Cubs already have lost Corey Patterson, Mark Grudzielanek and Tom Goodwin to injuries, Sosa didn't want to think about the possibility of a pennant race without Wood.
"We don't want to lose him," he said. "But we've got a sick guy."
After Wood gave up runs in the first two innings, the Cubs took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second on Aramis Ramirez's two-run homer off Odalis Perez (9-9) and Wood's RBI single.
But Wood walked Shawn Green to open the third, then served up a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre.
Wood was yanked after Cesar Izturis' sacrifice fly gave the Dodgers a 5-3 lead.
The Cubs had no long reliever in the bullpen because Juan Cruz had been shipped to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, forcing setup man Mike Remlinger into the role.
Though Ramirez's second two-run homer in the third tied it again at 5-5, Remlinger gave up a walk and four straight line-drive singles to start the fourth, and the Dodgers wound up grabbing an 8-5 lead.
Perez toughened up thereafter, allowing only two harmless singles until being lifted with one out in the seventh.
"It was a long, long, tough day at the ballpark," Baker said.