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Sergio Mitre suffered a mental meltdown in front of 39,298 fans Friday at Wrigley Field, costing the Cubs dearly in a 7-6 loss to St. Louis.
The rookie right-hander didn't seem to have his head in the game during some key moments in St. Louis' four-run second inning, digging the Cubs a hole from which they couldn't escape despite four home runs, including two by Michael Barrett and a three-run shot by Moises Alou.
"Some weird things happened in that second inning," Barrett said. "You try to slow things down, because usually what happens is things happen really fast, especially today.
"Those four runs came up on the board faster than any other inning all year.
Today was tough. We had a couple of mental lapses that made it tough for us to move on."
Mitre (2-3) had his worst outing of the season, yielding seven runs on 10 hits in five innings, ballooning his earned-run average to 5.82. He seemingly became flustered several times, throwing two costly wild pitches and failing to check a runner at second on a comebacker to the mound, which later allowed Mike Matheny to score from third on Tony Womack's infield hit.
"[The lapse] resulted in a run on an infield hit, and we end up losing by a run," manager Dusty Baker said. "Those are mistakes you make when you're young. You don't like them, but you've got to live with them."
With two on and one out in the second, the Cardinals pulled off a successful double steal. Mitre then threw a wild pitch, enabling the tying run to score. After Matheny doubled home the go-ahead run, Mitre failed to even look at him on Chris Carpenter's dribbler to the mound, taking the easy out at first.
Womack's hit made it 3-1 before some miscommunication led to another wild pitch.
"I thought I saw the pitchout sign," Mitre said. "But [Barrett] called a step-off and I caught him off-guard."
Ray Lankford promptly singled home Womack, making it 4-1. Mitre recovered briefly, but lost focus again in the fifth, serving up a two-run homer to Albert Pujols immediately after a stolen base by Lankford. Jim Edmonds followed with a first-pitch home run, making it 7-2.
Baker let Mitre bat for himself leading off the fifth, then replaced him with Todd Wellemeyer to start the sixth.
"I could tell the way the game was going I was going to need my pinch-hitters," Baker reasoned. "I only have five guys on the bench, and [St. Louis] had six. Mitre had just [doubled in the second] and I didn't want to burn up any of my guys."
Alou's three-run homer onto Waveland Avenue off Cal Eldred brought the Cubs to within a run in the seventh, conjuring up visions of Alou's game-winning heroics against San Francisco on Wednesday. He now has homered in three straight games, picking up the slack in the absence of Sammy Sosa.
"I'm just trying to be aggressive and got some good wood," Alou said. "[The three homers] happened to be in clutch situationsto tie the game, win the game, get close.
Everyone is trying hard. We know it's a big series for us and the fans."
But the Cubs failed to move another runner into scoring position after Alou's blast. Rookie Jason Dubois struck out on three pitches in the eighth while pinch-hitting against Ray King with two outs and the tying run on first. Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen threw a perfect ninth for his eighth save.
Baker plans to keep Mitre in the rotation.
"At this point, we've got to stick with him," Baker said. "This is one of the best-hitting clubs in the world. He's not pitching against slouches. These guys capitalize on mistakes."