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Extra heartbreak: Cubs fall in 10 innings
With 14 of their first 22 games scheduled at home this season, the Cubs were looking to get off to a good start before the arrival of summer-like weather.
But Sunday's 12-9, 10-inning loss to St. Louis on a warm and windy afternoon on the North Side, gave the Cubs seven defeats in 10 games at the once-friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
Albert Pujols provided the big blow with a mammoth three-run blast off Ryan Dempster in the 10th that landed on Waveland Avenue, after Mark DeRosa's two-out, two-run bloop single in the ninth sent the game into extra innings.
"We had a pretty good schedule in April and had the nice weather, but we just couldn't get it done," said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, whose three-run homer tied the game at 7-7 in the sixth. "We play better on the road than at home. That's not acceptable."
The Cubs dropped to 7-11, and have not won two straight games since April 6-7. Scott Rolen's five hits led the Cardinals, but Pujols hit Dempster so hard the ball may still be traveling.
"The pitch ran just back enough for him to get the barrel of the bat on it," Dempster said. "It's history, but the game's over with, and move forward."
Wade Miller was shelled in his third start, allowing seven runs on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings—including three home runs—as his earned-run average climbed to 10.54.
Asked about Miller's performance, manager Lou Piniella gave a Cliffs Notes version of the 3-hour-39-minute game: "It wasn't the easiest day to pitch."
Miller refused to blame the 18-m.p.h. wind blowing out to left as the reason for his troubles. He blew two-run leads in both the second and fourth innings, before serving up homers to Chris Duncan and Rolen in the Cardinals' three-run fifth.
"I'd say there's some discouragement," Miller said. "The conditions on the field have nothing to do with how I'm executing pitches."
With a day off on Thursday, Piniella will be able to bring back Jason Marquis on Friday in St. Louis, skipping Miller in the rotation. He won't need a fifth starter again until May 1 in Pittsburgh, and whether Miller stays in the rotation is one of several questions facing Piniella.
The first option is right-hander Angel Guzman, who bombed in his first start for Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, allowing five runs on six hits with two walks and no strikeouts in a three-inning outing. Carlos Marmol is pitching well, but the Cubs aren't ready to bring him up.
Alfonso Soriano's return in a pinch-hitting role resulted in a double in the ninth that set up DeRosa's game-tying hit. Soriano will return to the starting lineup on Monday, setting the stage for musical chairs in right field.
Another key question for Piniella is what to do about second base, where Ryan Theriot went 3-for-6 on Sunday in the leadoff spot. Theriot is hitting .471 for his career with runners in scoring position, and has a .343 batting average since the second half of 2006.
But DeRosa signed a three-year, $13 million deal, and unless Theriot moves to shortstop, there's no room for both.
"To be honest, whatever position I'm out there at, when I come out to the yard to play every day, that's the spot I'm going to go play at," Theriot said. "Whether it be second, short, I've played some third, played some outfield, to me I'm not biased [toward] any of them.
"I just think at some point we'll have that lineup that's going to be the best offensively for us."
No matter what lineup is on the field, the Cubs must take advantage of their home field. They went 36-45 at home last year and played before thousands of empty seats in September.
"We still have a lot of adjustments to make as a team," said Michael Barrett, who has homered in three straight starts. "We have to continue to work and prepare ourselves more and more.
"The elements haven't been friendly, whether the wind is blowing in [or] blowing out. But it's something we've seen year in and year out, but you can expect we'll be doing a better job from here on out, playing heads-up.
"Things will fall into place, but we have to work at it. They're not just going to happen overnight."