Antonio Alfonseca snapped, Mark Guthrie crackled and Kyle Farnsworth flopped as the Cubs suffered an eighth-inning collapse Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.
The end result was a collective meltdown that spoiled a superb outing by Kerry Wood in a 4-2 loss to St. Louis that left the Cubs 1½ games behind division-leading Houston and a half-game behind the Cardinals.
Now the Cubs must find a way to put the season's most mind-numbing loss behind them before Thursday night's series finale.
"Having [Carlos] Zambrano going helps a lot," Wood said. "We put ourselves in a good situation to win tonight and just didn't get it done."
Wood, who had struggled in recent starts, threw seven scoreless innings, scattering four hits, striking out 11 and leaving a riveting duel with fellow All-Star Woody Williams with a 2-0 lead. But five relievers combined to let it slip away in the Cardinals' four-run eighth. The result was a dispiriting loss that could linger if the Cubs let it.
"It's always difficult. Tonight it's OK to get down, you just don't stay down," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's baseball. If you got down and stayed down after every tough loss, you'd never get up."
The carnage began when Alfonseca replaced Wood, who'd thrown 125 pitches in oppressive heat, to start the eighth. Alfonseca gave up a single to Albert Pujols on his first pitch and Baker immediately removed him. Alfonseca, visibly upset, made a scene on the mound before departing. He said he was mad at himself.
Guthrie took over and thought he struck out Jim Edmonds twice, but plate umpire Bruce Dreckman disagreed. Edmonds poked Guthrie's 3-2 pitch into right field for a single.
"You can't throw that guy five or six strikes every time he comes up to bat," Guthrie said. "What's going to happen happened."
Farnsworth replaced Guthrie with the right-handed Scott Rolen coming up, and Baker made a double-switch, replacing left-fielder Moises Alou with Tom Goodwin. Alou appeared angry and exited through the bullpen instead of the dugout. He also said he was mad at himself.
"It was the shortest way [to the clubhouse] and I was kind of embarrassed," Alou said. "I played a bad game."
Farnsworth went to 3-0 on Rolen before walking him on a 3-2 pitch, then gave up a two-run single to Tino Martinez to tie the game at 2-2. His second pitch to Edgar Renteria bounced in front of the plate and skipped to the backstop, bringing home Rolen with the go-ahead run and sending Martinez to second.
Mike Remlinger walked the only batter he faced, and Joe Borowski induced Eduardo Perez to hit a grounder to second that Martinez bobbled before getting the force at second as Renteria scored the fourth run.
Sammy Sosa's RBI single off Williams in the sixth and his run-scoring double off Mike DeJean in the eighth gave the Cubs their 2-0 lead, which went for naught after the nightmarish eighth inning.
"You've got to give them creditthey're a great offensive team," Guthrie said. "As a bullpen, when you come in in that situation, you have to make great pitches if you expect to beat them. I don't think we were that horrible. The results were horrible, but a lot of things didn't go our way."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times