Cub momentum dies with Estes start

Shawn Estes' uncertain status in the Cubs' rotation was a pregame topic once again, but manager Dusty Baker downplayed the significance of Saturday's start against Milwaukee.

"I don't think it's right that every time he pitches [reporters ask], 'Is it a huge start?'" Baker said. "That's like walking a tightrope. That's not conducive for anybody. There's no person that pitches more or less every game for your job and for your life. We don't look at it like that."

But Estes lasted only two innings in a 9-5 loss to the Brewers, forcing Baker to deal with the question again after the game.

"It depends on who we have to start instead," Baker said.

Estes, whose 5.95 earned-run average is the worst of any National League starter, is scheduled to face St. Louis right-hander Brett Tomko on Thursday at Wrigley Field. Tomko began the day with an ERA of 5.48, second worst of any NL starter.

Juan Cruz was called up from Triple-A Iowa after Saturday's game to start Sunday, but then he would be pitching on three' days rest Thursday. One of Baker's other options could be using 22-year-old left-hander Felix Sanchez, who is expected to be called up from Double-A West Tenn when rosters expand Monday.

With Houston and St. Louis winning, the Cubs are 1½ games behind in the Central Division. The Brewers won for the 11th time in 12 games and are 5-3 at Wrigley Field.

Baker said Estes was "pinged to death," aside from Richie Sexson's two-run homer in the first.

Estes concurred. He said he "let the team down" but added the only pitch he'd take back was the home run to Sexson.

"I made the pitches I wanted to make," Estes said. "It just didn't work out. I'll go out and still make pitches, and after I let go of the ball, there's really nothing I can do about it."

Estes (7-11) was lifted for a pinch-hitter after throwing 47 pitches, allowing five runs on four hits and two walks. He is on pace to finish with the Cubs' third-worst ERA since the franchise began in 1876.

The highest ERA in Cubs history is 6.20, by Guy Bush in 1930. Bill Hutchison's 6.06 in 1894 is next worst. The closest modern-era Cubs who compare to Estes are Steve Trachsel, whose 5.56 ERA in 1999 ranks sixth from the bottom.

Trailing 2-1 in the second, Estes gave up two ground singles and watched pitcher Matt Kinney (10-9) bunt the runners over before Scott Podsednik's bloop single over shortstop Alex Gonzalez's head brought them home. Podsednik stole second on a pickoff attempt gone awry, advanced on a wild pitch and stole home when Estes threw over to Randall Simon trying to hold Keith Ginter at first. Simon's subsequent throw to the plate was late.

It was the first time anyone had stolen home against the Cubs since 1997. Todd Wellemeyer, brought up Saturday from Iowa, allowed four runs in four innings to make it 9-2. Troy O'Leary's three-run pinch homer off Kinney in the sixth gave the Cubs hope, but Eric Karros grounded out with the bases loaded to end the seventh, and Kenny Lofton was thrown out at home on Sammy Sosa's double to end the eighth.

"All day long we had trouble getting the two-out knock," Baker said. "And they had to get the perfect relay to get him, which they did. I felt that was the right play"