Cubs leave victory stranded

SportsChicago CubsBaseballLou PiniellaAdam MelhuseFrank CatalanottoCesar Izturis

Lou Piniella stood in his office for the entirety of his postgame news conference after Thursday's 6-5 loss to Texas, wondering aloud when his team was going to get on a hot streak.

"It should have started a month ago," Piniella said, laughing. "We're in the middle of the summer almost. I think we all need to go to church and put more in the [collection] box."

Piniella's prayers have gone unanswered thus far as his Cubs have fallen 8 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central.

Thursday they found another unusual way to lose—on two fly balls that went in and out of the gloves of outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Angel Pagan, sandwiched around Bob Howry botching a rundown. After the Cubs clawed back from a 5-0 deficit to tie it on Derrek Lee's run-scoring single in the sixth, ex-Cubs outfielder Kenny Lofton found a way to spoil their afternoon.

Lofton dumped a popup into shallow left field to lead off the ninth and Soriano appeared to have caught it before it popped out of his glove. After a sacrifice advanced Lofton, he seemingly was a dead duck off second on Brad Wilkerson's comebacker to Howry.

But after running at Lofton, Howry's throw to Cesar Izturis at second was too late so there were two runners on with one out. Frank Catalanotto followed with a liner down the right-field line that went in and out of the glove of a diving Pagan.

Game over.

Piniella called Howry's gaffe "a play you have to make."

"And then two balls pop out of outfielders' gloves and we go home," he added. "Go home and try again."

The Cubs have lost four of five since winning nine of 13 after Piniella's dirt-kicking rampage June 2. Piniella said before the game they needed to win seven or eight of 10.

"We get ourselves in position to do it and we just don't close the door," he said. "We won five of seven with a chance to springboard a couple of times, and then we get back and lose a few ballgames."

The Cubs' longest winning streak this season is five games, May 1-6 against Washington and Pittsburgh. Their longest winning streak in '06 was four games, and the last time they won as many as seven straight was May 27-June 2, 2005.

"What we need to do is get our offense going consistently," Piniella said before the game. "And get a nice streak where we're getting good pitching at the same time, and let it coincide."

The Cubs got neither Thursday.

They stranded seven runners in the first three innings—wasting a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the second—and 13 runners overall.

"We had a chance to score anywhere from five to 15 runs today," Piniella said. "We chose the lower number. We didn't choose it—that's what we ended up with.

"I truly believe this team is going to hit, and hit with men on base. But, boy, I'll tell you what, I'd really like to see it."

Ted Lilly (5-5) struck out 10 but struggled at the outset, putting the Cubs in an early 5-0 hole with back-to-back home runs to Victor Diaz and Adam Melhuse in the second and a two-run single to Marlon Byrd in the third.

"Just shows you how important it is to keep the ball in the park," Lilly said. "I have to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard."

The Cubs bounced back against Vicente Padilla, putting together six straight hits in a four-run fifth, then tying it 5-5 in the sixth on Lee's RBI single off Willie Eyre.

But the Cubs somehow found a way to lose, dropping two out of three to the team with the worst record in the American League.

"It doesn't matter who you're playing," Howry said. "You lose two out of three to anybody and it stinks. Doesn't matter if you're playing Texas. Doesn't matter if you're playing the Yankees."

psullivan@tribune.com

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