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No wiggle room left for Maddux
Greg Maddux has three more starts to try to extend his record streak of 17 consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins, an accomplishment unlikely to be matched.
But Maddux now has no margin for error. He must win all three starts after falling short Monday night in the Cubs' 5-2 loss to Cincinnati.
After the loss evened his record at 12-12, Maddux insisted he wasn't interested in the idea of manager Dusty Baker juggling his rotation to give him an extra start to try to extend the streak.
"As far as I'm concerned, I've had my chances," Maddux said. "I still have a chance. You've got to play the game right."
Asked Sunday if he was considering giving Maddux an extra start to reach the goal, Baker replied: "Yeah. It depends on where we are."
Baker backed off that remark before Monday's game, stressing that Maddux might not need an extra start to reach 15 wins. Now that Maddux doesn't want an extra start, it's seemingly a moot point.
Aaron Harang's pitching and two home runs by Wily Mo Pena dealt another blow to the Cubs' long-shot bid at winning the wild card. It also left them with a 7-14 record in their last 21 games at Wrigley Field, dating to July 28.
The Cubs fell to 71-73 and have not been at the .500 mark since Aug. 4, when they fell to 54-54 after a loss at Philadelphia.
"We just kind of messed that game up tonight," said Baker, referring to porous relief pitching from Will Ohman and Sergio Mitre.
Maddux allowed two runs in seven inningsback-to-back, first-pitch home runs to Javier Valentin and Pena in the fifthand failed to tie Phil Niekro for 15th place on the all-time career wins list at 317. Valentin is 6-for-10 lifetime against Maddux with four home runs.
"I'll probably just walk him [next time]," Maddux said sarcastically.
Maddux, who has a 2.04 earned-run average in three September starts, was removed for pinch-hitter Jeromy Burnitz with two outs in the seventh and the Cubs trailing 2-1. He'd thrown only 83 pitches and had retired nine straight batters, but Baker said Maddux was tired.
"He'd had it, and we were trying to get some runs," Baker said.
After Ohman walked back-to-back batters with two outs in the ninth, Baker called on Mitre instead of setup man Roberto Novoa, explaining, "We can't kill the guy."
Instead, Mitre killed the Cubs' chance at a ninth-inning comeback, serving up a three-run home run to Pena on an 0-2 curveball.
The Cubs are 33-37 at Wrigley Field, failing to capitalize on sellout crowds and an alleged home-field advantage.
Baker was at a loss to explain their lack of success at Wrigley.
"You certainly can't walk guys here in this park, especially when the ball is flying out of here," Baker said. "I don't know [why]. The guys were a little spent coming in late last night [from San Francisco]. But this one, I can't figure it out yet."