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Road to ruin: Skid hits 5
The Cubs faced the New York Mets in their second Sunday night game in three weeks, with yet another one scheduled next weekend against St. Louis at Wrigley Field.
Some teams like the exposure of playing in the nationally televised game.
"We don't need exposure," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're exposed every day anyway."
Baker was referring to their games being televised on WGN, not the Cubs' inefficiencies.
Nevertheless, the Cubs' troubles were exposed once again in a 6-1 loss to the Mets, their fifth consecutive loss.
"Just a bad road trip," first baseman Derrek Lee said. "It was bad. We haven't been up in a while. I'm just glad this road trip is over."
The Cubs ended the trip with a 1-5 record, falling six games behind wild-card leader Houston and 11/2 games behind third-place Milwaukee in the NL Central. They hit .235 on the trip and averaged 2.5 runs per game, and their starters allowed opponents to score in the first inning in the last four games.
In a battle of guys named Zambrano, Mets starter Victor Zambrano allowed one run in eight innings, while Carlos Zambrano was banged around early and took himself out of the game after only three innings, complaining of lower-back soreness. He allowed four runs on four hits and three walks in his shortest outing since going 12/3 innings June 22 in a 9-4 loss in Milwaukee.
Why was Zambrano's back suddenly acting up?
That's a question the Cubs were asking themselves.
"We didn't see any signs or anything," Baker said. "He said his back was real tight."
Trainer Mark O'Neal said Zambrano told them afterward his back had felt "a little stiff this morning." But Zambrano appeared fine before the game, watching the Houston-San Francisco game while sitting on the clubhouse couch and joking with the media, seemingly in good spirits.
Zambrano declined to comment on his performance or the injury, stalking off into the trainers' room.
When Baker moved Zambrano to the fourth spot in the rotation after the All-Star break, he said Zambrano was puzzled and asked him why he was being moved back. Baker explained that he wanted Zambrano in a spot between Greg Maddux and Jerome Williams, who were less likely to throw seven or eight innings than Mark Prior or, at the time, Kerry Wood.
"That way, if [Zambrano] throws his normal game, he saves my bullpen," Baker said before the game.
But Zambrano hurt the team Sunday, throwing 33 pitches in the Mets' two-run first and 48 over the first two innings before removing himself after the third. Zambrano has suffered from a multitude of injuries this season, including a stiff forearm, a sore big left toe, back spasms and a blister. He also was ejected from two games in April against Arizona and Cincinnati for arguing with umpires.
Aramis Ramirez's team-leading 15th error opened the door for a two-out rally in the first. Cliff Floyd followed with a single to center, and Carlos Beltran came all the way around from first to score. David Wright's single later scored Floyd. Only two National League third basemen, Arizona's Troy Glaus and the Mets' Wright, have committed more errors this season than Ramirez.
"That was big," Baker said, pointing out the opposing team scored in the first inning in each of their last four losses.
"They say the team that scores first wins 70 percent of the time. On this road trip they won 100 percent of the time. We've got to get some offense going early in the game instead of playing catch-up."
The Mets added two more runs off Zambrano in the third after he loaded the bases by issuing back-to-back walks following a leadoff single by Miguel Cairo. Wright hit a sacrifice fly, and Mike Piazza's two-out RBI single made it 4-0.
Zambrano finished the inning, then told pitching coach Larry Rothschild he was finished.