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Absolutely no relief in sight
It was during Austin Kearns' at-bat near the end of Cincinnati's seven-run fourth inning Wednesday that a group of boys in the box seats on the first-base side began chanting in unison.
"Hey, batta batta. Hey, batta, batta
It was a perfect refrain for an inning that resembled something out of the players' youth.
Unlike those days of old, however, no one was treated to pizza and ice cream after the Reds' 8-2 drubbing extended the Cubs' losing streak to eight games, tying a season high.
Whenever it seems like it can't get any worse for the victory-starved Cubs, reality sinks in. The Reds scored eight runs on six hits and 10 walks, leaving the Cubs six games below .500, a low-water mark.
"I'm probably more bewildered than I am embarrassed," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're just trying to figure this thing out."
Rookie left-hander Rich Hill and reliever Michael Wuertz combined to issue six walks to the 13 batters they faced in the fateful fourth, forcing in three runs on bases-loaded walks, including one to Reds starter Eric Milton. They threw 54 pitches in the inning, 30 balls, in one of the most difficult to digest moments in a season filled with them.
In his last two outings, Hill (0-2) has allowed 13 runs, 11 hits and six walks in 41/3 innings. Wednesday's start could be his last for a while.
Baker said Hill "possibly" isn't ready for the big leagues after only 17 minor-league starts above Class A. "We have to address it," Baker said. "I don't think I've ever seen six hits and eight runs like that."
Ryan Freel cranked Hill's first pitch onto the left-field catwalk to give the Reds a 1-0 lead. After Michael Barrett's homer off Milton (6-12) tied it 1-1 in the second, Adam Dunn led off the fourth with a 368-foot single off the right-field wall, followed by Kearns' single on an 0-2 pitch.
"The main thing in that [seven-run] inning was the 0-2 pitch [to Kearns]; that has been killing us," Baker said.
Jason LaRue walked with a full count to load the bases and Hill walked Edwin Encarnacion on four pitches. After nearly hitting Milton on his second pitch, Hill watched the veteran Reds pitcher foul off three straight 3-2 pitches before walking to force in another run.
Hill said "nerves" had nothing to do with his performance.
"For a brief moment there, three walks in a row, I realized that I just lost focus," Hill said, before correcting himself.
"I didn't think it was a lack of focus," he continued. "It's just unacceptable what happened."
Baker finally called on Wuertz, but no relief was in sight. Freel singled on his first pitch, driving in two more runs to make it 5-1. Ken Griffey Jr. doubled into the right-field corner, clearing the bases. With two outs, Baker ordered Wuertz to walk Dunn intentionally, but he then unintentionally walked Kearns and LaRue to force in the third run of the inning.
When the inning ended with Wuertz's strikeout of Encarnacion, the crowd of 38,405 gave the Cubs a mock standing ovationthe loudest cheer of the day.