Carlos Zambrano's arm was feeling heavy Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, while a crowd of 40,236 was feeling somewhat nauseated.
In a scene that has been replayed over and over this season, the Cubs lost 3-2 to Houston thanks to a costly error and a lack of clutch hitting.
They fell to 13 games below .500 and 13 games behind the NL Central-leading Cardinals.
"It just seems like the majority of this year we've found ways to lose," first baseman Todd Walker said. "You can pin today on me."
The Cubs not only were swept by the Astros, but they gave away two of the games.
WGN-TV videoThey went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position Thursday and watched Walker's throwing error lead to a two-run Houston rally in the eighth inning.
They are now 13-31 since April 29, a .265 winning percentage, and are 5-19 at home in that span.
The Cubs have been swept six times this season, including three times at home since the tailspin began.
Aside from another one-run loss, the concern was with Zambrano's right arm, perhaps the only thing between a bad season and a total nightmare.
After Zambrano pitched seven innings and departed with a 2-1 lead, Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he was not feeling well beforehand.
Zambrano confirmed his arm felt "heavy," forcing him to ditch his fastball and throw more sliders and split-fingered pitches.
Zambrano had thrown 126 pitches in each of his previous two starts, so Baker wanted to limit him to 110 Thursday. He finished with 107.
Are the relatively high pitch counts responsible for the "heavy arm?"
"No," Zambrano said. "At some part of the season, that happens to me. My arm is getting stronger. That's natural for me."
The Cubs insisted there was nothing wrong.
"You're not going to feel perfect every time out there for 35 starts," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "This is just one of those days, and he ended up throwing pretty well."
Rothschild said it was simply a matter a fatigue, though he admitted Zambrano's recent workload may have been a contributing factor.
"I don't know if there's any way around it, the way he's throwing the ball," Rothschild said. "The game in Houston, he took a no-hitter [into the eighth inning]. I don't know if it has been excessive."
Leading 2-1 in the seventh, the Cubs wasted Freddie Bynum's leadoff triple to set up the decisive eighth. After Chris Burke and Lance Berkman greeted reliever Bob Howry with back-to-back singles, Preston Wilson hit a one-out shot to first. Walker made a nice play but forced a sidearm throw to second while attempting a double play. It pulled Ronny Cedeno off the bag and left the bases loaded.
Brad Ausmus followed by grounding a hit through the hole between first and second on a 2-0 pitch, bringing home the tying and go-ahead runs. Howry (2-2) got the loss, but the Cubs stranding runners on third in the sixth and seventh innings was a killer as well.
"We have to find a way to get those runners in," Baker said. "Boy it's a tough one to take. You just get tired of the same kind of thing. The guys are busting their butts. We're just coming up short."
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