Instead of providing an exclamation point in his comeback from a shoulder strain, Mark Prior's performance Sunday in a 12-3 loss to Detroit only led to another question mark.
Can Prior return to his old form? Or are his power pitching days a thing of the past? In his first start since September, Prior gave up six runs on three homers in the first inningeight runs on four homers overallin a 32/3-inning stint.
"It doesn't matter if I'm coming back or have been pitching all year," Prior said. "I basically [stunk] today. You give up six runs (in the first), you make it extremely tough on the other 24 guys to even give them a chance. It was not a good one, but you've got to move on."
Roberto Novoa, in relief of Prior, served up four more homers as the Cubs tied a franchise record with eight home runs allowed. Detroit also tied its franchise record for home runs in a game. The Cubs have been outhomered 50-24 at Wrigley Field this season.
"They hit a number of home runs off us," manager Dusty Baker said. "I haven't seen that many home runs in a long time."
Actually, the record was set only three weeks earlier when Atlanta hit eight home runs in a 13-12 win at Wrigley. But who's counting?
In finishing the homestand 0-6, the Cubs have lost seven straight home games and are 13-34 overall since April 29. The last time the Cubs were winless in a homestand of six or more games was six straight April 8-16, 1997, when they set a National League record with an 0-14 start to the season. WGN-TV video"We're not doing anything right," third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "We're not hitting. We're not pitching. I don't know how many walks we gave up in this series, but it was a lot. And you can't win like that. At the same time we didn't hit either. I don't know what to say."
Prior had not allowed a run in 24 combined innings in his four previous comeback games, but expectations for this one were relatively muted before the game.
"You're always looking for miracles," Baker said. "But you're being a realist at the same time. This is a tough challenge for him the first time out."
Instead of a miracle, the Cubs got a nightmare. Prior tied career highs in runs allowed and home runs, while Tigers ace Kenny Rogers earned his 200th career victory, improving to 10-3 for the season with a strong eight-inning performance.
Prior's struggles began with the very first batter. In a 39-pitch first inning, he served up three home runs to the first seven hitters. Leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson homered on a 91-m.p.h. fastball with a 3-2 count before Placido Polanco singled on the next pitch.
After Prior's throwing error on Vance Wilson's sacrifice attempt put two men on, he fell behind Carlos Guillen 3-1 before Guillen cranked a three-run, opposite-field homer on another 91-m.p.h. fastball.
After Prior walked Marcus Thames, Chris Shelton poked a two-run shot to right-center on an 88-m.p.h. fastball, making it 6-0.
The last time Prior had allowed six or more runs in an inning was May 1, 2005, at Houston, when he was hit by a six-run fifth.
"I didn't throw any strikes in the first inning," Prior said. "I got behind in the counts, and obviously they're swinging well."
The Cubs' starters put the team in a first-inning hole against the Tigers in all three games
They never had a lead the entire series. Wilson smacked a two-run homer on a 91-m.p.h. fastball in the fourth to make it 8-1, and Baker pulled his starter after 88 pitches.
Prior walked off the mound with his head bowed as a round of polite applause drowned out a chorus of boos.
"This is the hitters' time of the year right now," Baker said. "It's hot. The wind is blowing out. The ball is flying out of here. Every ball up in the air on us was a home run. I'm sure he'll be better next time."