Astros center fielder Craig Biggio smoked a line drive at Greg Maddux in the fourth inning of Wednesday night's game at Minute Maid Park, nearly taking the Cubs pitcher's head off.
Maddux not only managed to keep his noggin intact, he also snared the liner for an out.
Just keeping their heads about them seemingly is the daily task for the Cubs, who saw two more players headed for the disabled list before suffering a 7-3 loss to Houston.
Maddux (3-4), failing for the second time to register his 293rd career victory, allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings, his shortest outing since lasting only 3 2/3 innings in the home opener April 12. He was hit in the right shin with another liner in the second inning but said it was just a bruise and "no big deal."
Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said the liner "smoked" Maddux's leg, even though Maddux shook it off.
"It looked like a baseball was growing out of his leg," Barrett said. "It was nasty."
Playing long-ball against the team that lives and dies by the home run, the Astros tagged Maddux for three homers to sweep the two-game series. It was the first time the Cubs had been swept in a series since Baker took over last year.
The Cubs remained 1½ games behind NL Central-leading Cincinnati but dropped into third place, a half-game behind the Astros.
Earlier Todd Wellemeyer and Tom Goodwin were nominated for the disabled list, which would give the Cubs a club-record nine players on the DL.
The only discouraging news for Houston was that starter Andy Pettitte was forced to leave the game after four innings because of a left forearm strain.
Back-to-back monstrous home runs by Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent paced a three-run third inning that put the Cubs in a 4-0 hole. Lance Berkman added a shot off the foul pole in right field in the fifth to make it 5-1, the 14th homer off Maddux in 10 starts.
"I made some mistakes," Maddux said, "And they hit 'em all."
Maddux allowed a career-high 24 home runs last year in Atlanta and currently trails only Matt Morris (15) for most homers allowed this season in the National League. Are all the home runs he has served up alarming?
"It stinks," Maddux said. "But it's not alarming."
The Cubs pulled within 5-3 on Todd Hollandsworth's two-run shot off Mike Gallo in the sixth, but a questionable decision by third base coach Wendell Kim helped thwart a potential rally later in the inning.
Kim waved Barrett home from second on Jason Dubois' two-out single to right, though Barrett was barely around third when Richard Hidalgo fielded the ball. Barrett tried to barrel into catcher Brad Ausmus but was out by about 15 feet.
Manager Dusty Baker defended Kim's decision to send Barrett instead of holding him at third.
"It's easy to say now, but that's a judgment [call],," Baker said. "He was trying to get us back in the game. Everybody knows Hidalgo can throw. When you're playing aggressive, that's going to happen."
Houston added a run off rookie Michael Wuertz in the sixth on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro and the Cubs stranded two runners in the seventh when Dan Miceli struck out Aramis Ramirez and induced Derrek Lee to ground out.
The Astros added a run off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth.
Houston comes to Wrigley Field for a three-game series starting Monday and the Cubs will have to step it up a notch or two.
"We don't have Sammy [Sosa]," Baker said. "So we have to pitch better, play better, be better fundamentally and get some timely hits."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times