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Bullpen can't close in Atlanta
No one could blame manager Lou Piniella if he's wondering just exactly what he got himself into.
The latest savior of baseball's most beleaguered franchise had seen just about everything there was to see in a long and illustrious career until he came to Chicago and put on a Cubs uniform.
On a perfect night for baseball in Turner Field, Piniella watched his ace and his top left-handed reliever struggle in an 8-6 loss to the Braves.
The Cubs fell to 5-9 with their seventh loss in the last nine games as Carlos Zambrano flopped again and Scott Eyre blew a one-run lead in the seventh.
"What did us in [Wednesday night] was a real tired bullpen, and we didn't get the real good performance we were looking for from Zambrano," Piniella said.
"The guys battled. We just didn't hold them. That's really the story."
After the Cubs clawed back from an early deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the seventh, Eyre issued a two-out walk to keep the Braves' seventh inning alive.
Matt Diaz followed with a routine grounder to shortstop Cesar Izturis, who double-clutched as Diaz reached on an infield hit.
Another walk loaded the bases before Kelly Johnson's two-run single put the Braves ahead. Edgar Renteria followed with an RBI single to make it 8-6.
"Our hitters are making comebacks, and right now I'm not helping a whole lot," Eyre said. "Every time I seem to make a mistake, it costs us. [Wednesday night] was no different."
Said Piniella: "The only fresh pitcher I had in the bullpen was Scottie Eyre. He just didn't get the job done."
The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but reliever Peter Moylan induced Ryan Theriot to hit a hard shot to Renteria, who made a great stab and started a double play to end the inning.
Bob Wickman put the Cubs down in order in the ninth for his fifth save.
Zambrano yielded five runs on eight hits and five walks in six innings. Piniella removed him after 113 pitches.
"It's too early in the season to extend him past that," Piniella said.
The Cubs handed Zambrano a one-run lead on Mark DeRosa's fourth home run in the first, but Zambrano gave up four runs with two outs in a 25-pitch first inning, including Jeff Francoeur's three-run homer.
"I told him to try to hold his composure on the mound, quit fighting himself and concentrate on the hitter," Piniella said.
Zambrano agreed with Piniella.
"I wasn't feeling good the first inning. I wasn't hitting my spots," he said. "That's why I was fighting with myself. But I came back and did my job and shut the door."
The Braves stacked the lineup with five left-handed hitters, including switch-hitter Chipper Jones. They combined to go 6-for-14 against Zambrano, and left-handed hitters are batting .378 off Zambrano this season. He limited lefties to a .247 average in 2006.
After Zambrano put the Cubs in an early hole, they fought back with two runs in the sixth and two in the seventh, tying the game 5-5 on Derrek Lee's RBI double off Oscar Villarreal, and going ahead on Villarreal's wild pitch.