Up until the final batter, the Cubs had a controversy-free afternoon against Philadelphia on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.
But nothing lasts forever and when Sammy Sosa struck out with the tying run on second to end a 4-3 loss to the Phillies, fingers once again were pointed in the direction of the men in blue.
The Cubs didn't make a big stink out of it, but they were visibly upset at having another close call go against them with a game on the line. Phillies reliever Tim Worrell had fallen behind Sosa 2-0 and threw an outside pitch on 3-1 that sent Sosa on his way to first without waiting for a call.
"It looked outside from where we were," manager Dusty Baker said.
But plate ump Joe West ruled it a strike, turning Sosa around about 15-feet toward first base.
"I was thinking it was ball four," Sosa said. "He made the call."
Worrell threw another pitch out of the zone on 3-2 and Sosa swung and missed for the final out. The Cubs are now 13-18 in one-run games. Only Montreal (10-19) has lost more one-run decisions among National League teams.
Lack of execution was once again a sore point in a close loss. The Cubs failed to move Tom Goodwin past second after his leadoff double in the ninth, and it ended up haunting them.
"The little things are what cost you in low-scoring, one-run ballgames," Baker said. "It did today. We have to get better at the little things, big-time."
Carlos Zambrano lost his third straight start, allowing four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Three of the hits were of the infield variety and one was a blooper into short right field.
But the Cubs failed to do much damage in the clutch against Phillies starter Paul Abbott (1-4), who hadn't won since April 21 when he was with Tampa Bay. All three Cubs runs came on home runsSosa in the first, Derrek Lee in the fourth and Aramis Ramirez in the sixth.
The Cubs had plenty of chances. Back-to-back singles off Worrell in the eighth by Ramirez and Michael Barrett put the tying run on third with one out. But Phillies second baseman Placido Polanco backhanded Alex Gonzalez's shot up the middle and turned it into an inning-ending double play.
"That saved the game," Barrett said. "To me, that was the difference. The momentum was starting to shift."
Goodwin started the ninth with a pinch-hit double off the outstretched glove of first baseman Jim Thome. But Mark Grudzielanek failed to lay a bunt down, took a called strike two and eventually flied out to right. Corey Patterson then struck out, leaving it up to Sosa.
"You hate to have opportunities like that in the eighth and ninth innings and not capitalize on them," Baker said.
In his first start since appealing his five-game suspension for hitting Jim Edmonds, Zambrano (9-6) was relatively tame on the mound. He didn't have any problems with West and didn't anger any of the Phillies' hitters.
But when Pat Burrell reached on an infield hit in the fourth that glanced off Gonzalez's glove and Rickey Ledee followed with a run-scoring single to tie the game 2-2, Zambrano became flustered.When Grudzielanek couldn't corral David Bell's bloop single into short right, Zambrano let out a deep sigh, crouched down on the mound with his head down and remained as still as a statue.
One out later, Abbott gave the Phillies a 4-2 lead with a two-run single, his first RBIs in a game since he was in high school.
"I had a little bad luck," Zambrano said. "That happens in a season. You can't put your head down. Just keep your head up and think about the next start."