Coming up short

Chicago CubsSammy SosaDerrek LeeKerry WoodTom GoodwinGreg Maddux

If the Cubs lose a chance to go to the postseason, they will spend a long winter thinking about all the squandered opportunities and all the runners thrown out on the bases.

They blew a chance to overtake San Francisco in the wild-card chase Saturday night at Great American Ball Park when they lost 6-5 to Cincinnati before a sellout crowd of 41,829.The Cubs remained a half-game behind the Giants. Houston is one back, San Diego three back and Florida remained 4½ out.

Reds center fielder Wily Mo Pena threw out Mark Grudzielanek at the plate while as he was trying to score the tying run from second on a one-out single by Ben Grieve in the eighth.

The loss snapped the Cubs' five-game winning streak and left them 16-25 in one-run contests.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he had no problem with third-base coach Wendell Kim sending Grudzielanek home on Grieve's hit.

"Heck, no," Baker said. "You don't see many guys getting thrown out on ground balls up the middle, even though it was a hard-hit ball. It was a pretty good throw. It was low and it skipped."

After Sammy Sosa's solo home run with one out in the eighth pulled the Cubs to within a run, singles by Grudzielanek and pinch-hitter Todd Walker put the potential tying run in scoring position. Baker then inserted Tom Goodwin as a pinch-runner for Walker instead of Grudzielanek.

"Grud can run," Baker said. "If Grud couldn't run, I would've pinch-run for him."

Whether Goodwin could have scored on Grieve's single won't be known. Grudzielanek was out by a good margin despite a headfirst slide.

"I thought Grud was going to be safe," Baker said. "I don't think he had a good jump. We looked up and were surprised [it] was that close."

Baker also pointed to the second inning when Derrek Lee made it to third base with no outs only to have Sosa strike out and Grudzielanek pop out. Paul Bako was intentionally walked before Greg Maddux struck out to end the threat.

"When you lose one-run games, you look back on things like that," Baker said.

The Cubs threatened again in the ninth on Neifi Perez's leadoff single, but Aramis Ramirez grounded into a double play and Moises Alou struck out to end the game.

Maddux (14-10) failed to extend his record streak of consecutive 15-win seasons to 17, despite cruising into the sixth with a 4-1 lead and allowing only three hits through the first five.

Cincinnati pounded Maddux in the sixth, scoring five runs on five hits, including two-run homers by D'Angelo Jimenez and Pena, who hit two off Maddux.

"I left some changeups up," Maddux said. "I wish I knew why, but I don't."

Alou's two-run homer in the sixth, his second off Reds starter Aaron Harang, gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead. They added another run that inning on a wild pitch before the Reds struck back in the bottom of the inning. It was the third time in the last four games a Cubs starter fell apart in one strange inning.

Mark Prior blew a four-run lead Wednesday over Pittsburgh, allowing four runs in the second. Kerry Wood blew a two-run lead Thursday over Cincinnati, allowing three runs in the fifth when he lost his control. Wood, however, bounced back by striking out the side the next inning, earning the victory.

Maddux wasn't given an opportunity to rebound from his bad inning. Baker replaced him with Michael Wuertz to start the seventh after Maddux had thrown 80 pitches.

"I felt fine," Maddux said. "I just got hit. I made some bad pitches and they didn't miss 'em."

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