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For more than two hours Monday, Matt Clement stood eyeball to eyeball with Milwaukee Brewers All-Star Ben Sheets. The Cubs right-hander blinked only once. But it was once too often.
Clement, who struck out 10, was masterful. In fact, he was just one pitch worse than his opponent. But that pitch was a high 0-2 slider to Craig Counsell in the first inning that Counsell sent over the wall in right-center in the Brewers' 1-0 victory.
It was just Counsell's second home run of the season, and the only run allowed by the two starters, who combined for 22 strikeouts through their seven innings of work.
"It was a bad pitch," Clement said. "You can't give up a home run on an 0-2 pitch going for a strikeout."
Strikeouts were the order of the day. The Cubs fanned 17 times against Sheets, Luis Vizcaino and Dan Kolb, easily topping the previous season high, 13 on May 18 against San Francisco. Adding injury to insult, manager Dusty Baker was hit in the ribs by a foul ball in the ninth off the bat of José Macias.
The Cubs outhit the Brewers 6-3, but left four runners in scoring position.
The Milwaukee win, before a standing-room crowd of 45,016 that was the second largest in Miller Park history, ended the Cubs' winning streak and the Brewers' losing streak at four.. It also ended a run of eight consecutive Cubs victories at Miller Park and started the Brewers off nicely against a NL Central rival they face 17 times in 51 days.
Clement (7-7), who with Carlos Zambrano was a linchpin for the Cubs through the first month-plus of the season, has slid from 5-1 to being without a win since June 8his lone victory in his last eight starts despite a sub-2.70 ERA over his last 16 starts.
Monday marked the 10th start in which Clement has allowed two or fewer earned runs. But it also was the 10th time the Cubs failed to score as many as two runs while Clement was in the game.
"You hate to see Matty lose because he's certainly pitching a whole lot better than his record indicates," Baker said. "Sheets was tough. He's tough all the time. He's not an All-Star for nothing."
The Cubs had chances against Sheets (8-5), who improved to 7-2 lifetime against them, but showed some of the effects of a night game Sunday followed by travel to Milwaukee for a day game.
The Cubs had their final chance to go ahead in the eighth when, with two outs, Ramon Martinez singled to right and Sammy Sosa was credited with an infield single when third baseman Wes Helms bobbled his slow hopper wide of the bag.
But Derrek Lee, the Cubs' hottest hitter (.414) the past 16 games, capped an 0-for-4 game with his third strikeout, this time against Vizcaino.
That was a Cubs' pattern for the day. A single and stolen base by Macias in the second, followed by an infield hit by Rey Ordonez, netted nothing when Clement fanned. Todd Walker blooped a double down the right-field line to open the third, moved to third on a sacrifice by Martinez, but stayed there as Sosa and Lee went out on strikes to baseball's No. 2 strikeout pitcher behind Randy Johnson.
Michael Barrett doubled into the right-field corner with one out in the fourth, but for the third straight inning a Cub was left in scoring position. Macias struck out and Ordonez popped to center.
Coupled with St. Louis' win over Cincinnati, the Cubs fell four games behind the Cardinals in a division with five teams above .500.