When the Cubs smashed three first-inning home runs Monday night off Cincinnati starter Matt Belisle, the notion of a slow-motion meltdown was the furthest thing from anyone's mind.
But if the Cubs have proven anything over the last 97 years, it's not to take anything for granted.
After a 7-6 loss to the Reds on a summer-like evening at Great American Ball Park, the Cubs were left to explain the unexplainable.
"We've seen a lot of that," catcher Michael Barrett said. "It's been pretty baffling for us. I think we've had about five games where we've been left scratching our heads like, 'What happened?' We're not winning games we should right now, and it's frustrating."
So what happened?
Kerry Wood blew a four-run lead, and Jason LaRue's two-out, two-run double off Jon Leicester in the eighth snapped a 5-5 tie and sent the Cubs searching for answers again.
"That's definitely a tough loss," right fielder Jeromy Burnitz said. "We've got to win those games for sure."
Corey Patterson, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee homered off Belisle to give the Cubs a 4-0 first-inning lead, and Burnitz added a solo shot in the third to keep the ball rolling.
But the Cubs couldn't add on, and Wood served up two home runs to Adam Dunn on 2-0 pitches as the Reds slowly chipped away at the lead. They finally grabbed hold of it for keeps in the crazy eighth after Barrett got confused on a bang-bang double play and tried to throw out a runner at third who was already out.
Pitching for the first time in 10 days because Glendon Rusch tweaked his groin in the previous inning and Baker was reluctant to use Chad Fox or Mike Remlinger again, Leicester walked Joe Randa and Dunn to start the eighth before hitting Wily Mo Pena to load the bases.
Rich Aurilia hit a hard shot to third, where Ramirez tagged the base to force out Dunn before quickly firing home. Barrett tagged out a sliding Randa, then rifled a throw to third when he saw Dunn jogging toward the base.
Barrett's throw wound up in left, leaving men on second and third with two outs. A run was mistakenly put up on the scoreboard and wasn't removed until the middle of LaRue's at-bat. Barrett said he wasn't sure if Ramirez had touched third for the force, so he made the throw just in case he missed it.
"I tried to hold on to the ball, and I couldn't," Barrett said. "It was one of those funky plays. ... I saw a lot of red out there running around. I wasn't sure."
LaRue followed with a two-run double over Patterson's head in center, giving the Reds a 7-5 lead. Neifi Perez's RBI single off Danny Graves in the ninth made it 7-6, and Patterson singled to move the tying run to second with one out.
But after Ramirez's fly to deep center advanced Perez to third, Burnitz grounded out to second to end a wild night.
The Cubs came into the game ranked 10th in the National League in home runs before taking batting practice off Belisle. With two outs in the first, Patterson smoked an 0-1 pitch over the right-field fence and Ramirez followed with a 386-foot shot to left.
Lee, batting sixth despite his red-hot April, cranked a two-run, 482-foot blast over the batter's eye high above the center-field fence, making it 4-0. It was the third-longest home run in the two-plus-year history of Great American Ball Park, and Lee joined Dunn and Albert Pujols as the only players to leave the park via center field.
Aurilia's broken-bat, two-run single in the sixth spoiled Wood's chance at his first win of 2005.
"That's baseball," Wood said. "It happens. I made the pitch I wanted to make."
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