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Labor Day looms (yeah, no work), summer's out the door (boo, winter) and as the stretch run of a divisional race that the Cubs somehow are in the thick of gets under way for real (seriously?), the sloth-like Steve Trachsel re-emerges to do some long relief, make a spot start and generally take his sweet time on the mound.

Put away your white pants, fire up the grill and get ready for a September that, if last night was any indication, surely will cause acid reflux.

(I don't wear white pants anyway because if you spill your morning coffee in your lap, which is a problem for me, well, you might as well stay rooted to your chair all day.)

Houston, fifth in the NL Central and a half game from last, helped the Cubs by taking two of three from the Cardinals and now come to Wrigley for a Labor Day weekend series.

It's not exactly a pitching matchup for the ages, but it is two lefties battling. That's not usually good news for the Cubs, but, hey, after beating Manny Parra last night they "improved" to 13-20 against left-handed starters.

Wandy Rodriguez, looking for his first win in seven games, goes for the Astros. Sean Marshall, who's won his last two starts, looks to continue his mini-roll for the Cubs.

The other contenders in the race for the worst division in baseball play later. Milwaukee's in Pittsburgh, while the Cards play host to the Reds.

And wait, Trachsel? What, Dave Veres wasn't available?

Your lineups.

And am I the only one watching the FIBA Americas tournament? I thought so.

First inning

Wayne Messmer sings the Anthem and we're off on this beautiful day in Chicago. And, yes, no word on why Soriano is out of the lineup, but I suspect he's getting a day off to rest his Mike Quade. It is Soriano life-sized poster day at the park. And I have no update on G-Reg, other than what was said in the paper today. Sprained knee.

OK, let's get going for real now. Marshall starts off rookie-of-the-year candidate Hunter Pence with three straight balls. Pence draws a leadoff walk. Marshall goes to 2-0 against Craig Biggio and Henry Blanco trots out to talk to his pitcher. Full count to Biggio and he can't lay off a high fastball. Lance Berkman lines a double down the third-base line past a diving Aramis Ramirez. Hunter Pence gets on his polo pony and scores all the way from first beating the relay throw easily. Marshall wants no part of Carlos Lee, pitches around him to 3-0 before putting him on intentionally. Mark Loretta strikes out on three pitches. Two on, two out, 2-2 to Ty Wigginton and Blanco again goes out to the mound. An inside curve bounces by Blanco. Both runners move up and I'm sure that's not what Blanco told Marshall when he went out to the mound. Marshall misses on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Here's Larry Rothschild making a first-inning appearance. Two balls to Chris Burke and the natives are getting restless. Ball three isn't close and the bullpen stirs to life in the form of Michael Wuertz. Burke takes a strike down the middle before popping out to second. Trachsel better hurry up; the Cubs may need him today.

Astros 1, Cubs 0

Ryan Theriot, leading off again with Soriano kicking back on the bench today, pops out to Biggio at second. Mark DeRosa hits one right at Lee in left. Two quick outs. Derrek Lee drives one deep to right center. The wind knocks it down a bit and Pence grabs it on the run.

Astros 1, Cubs 0

Second inning

Here we go. Marshall tossed 31 pitches, 19 of them balls, in the first inning. True to form, he starts Brad Ausmus off with two balls. Two foul balls even the count before Ausmus grounds out to short. Everyone knows it's Wandy: The pitcher Rodriguez bounces out to third. Pence takes a called third strike and Marshall apparently thinks the game starts in the second inning. That went much better than the first, to point out the obvious.

Ramirez singles up the middle. Craig Monroe bounces into a 6-4-3 double play. Murton sprays a single past a diving Berkman. Blanco falls behind 0-2 and fouls a few pitches off to stay alive. Did he get some more tattoos while he was on the DL? Anyway, he lines out to right. Nothing doing in the second.

Astros 1, Cubs 0

Third inning

Good to see the Walgreen's celebrity batkids are back to their Stepford zombie waving? Does some producer or marketing person stand just off camera and hiss, "If you don't keep waving, you'll never see your parents again"? Biggio fouls a pitch off his front foot and goes down in a heap. He's back up and fouls a few more pitches off. Biggio beats out an infield hit that sent DeRosa deep into the hole. Len says when Biggio retires he wants to take in a Cubs game with Jeff Bagwell in the bleachers. Ramirez robs Berkman of a hit with a full-out diving stop, gets up and throws on the money across the diamond. Biggio takes second. Lee bounces one to Ramirez for the second out. Loretta grounds out to second. Jacque Jones, Marshall and Theriot coming up.

Jones hits for the first time today and pops out to short. Marshall, who always looks unbelievably uncomfortable at the plate, takes a called third strike, sticks his bat under his arm and walks back to the dugout. Theriot pops the first pitch up to shallow right. The right fielder Burke calls off two teammates and then drops it. With Theriot on first, DeRosa takes a big curve for strike one. DeRosa eventually works a walk out of Wandy, bringing up Lee with two on and two outs. Lee sends one deep into the right-field corner. Burke gives chase, disappears out of camera view and the ball comes popping out. But it's called foul. I guess it hit the sidewall. It did, replays show. Lee, Derrek sends it high in the air to left. Lee, Carlos shields his eyes with his glove and makes the catch. You had a feeling he might lose it for a second. Alas, we move on.

Astros 1, Cubs 0

Fourth inning

Ty Wigginton -- isn't he that hyper carpenter guy from that one show and that other show? -- grounds to Ramirez, who boots it. Burke singles to left and it almost shoots by Murton. Ausmus flies out deep to right. Wigginton tags; Burke does not. Wandy shows bunt, misses the first one, fouls off the second one and with two strikes gets it down, moving Burke to second. Pence jacks a 1-1 high fastball deep into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer. Brenly says that ball was on a tee. It appeared to be so. Biggio singles, Larry gets on the phone and then walks out to the mound. Wuertz gets up for the second time in the pen. The count goes to 2-1 to Berkman and Brenly is still going on about that pitch Pence hit out. Berkman walks. Lou Piniella springs from the dugout, wiggles the fingers on his right hand and that's it for Marshall. Wuertz faces Lee and for some reason Biggio takes off for third and Blanco throws him out. Huh. Not sure why he was running with two outs and Carlos Lee up. But that was a gift.

Astros 4, Cubs 0

Ramirez flies out to center. Monroe draws a walk. Murton takes a backdoor curve for strike three. Blanco strikes out swinging and Wandy continues to have his way with the Cubs.

Astros 4, Cubs 0

Fifth inning

Lee leads off the fifth. Wuertz is still in there pitching. Lee hits the first pitch deep to center where Jones gloves it on the track. Loretta doubles to the dark recesses of the left-field corner. The 0-1 pitch to Wigginton goes through Blanco's legs and Loretta takes third. Wuertz strikes out Wigginton. Burke flies out to Murton in left, stranding Loretta at third.

Jones grounds out to Biggio and the untouchable, unhittable Wandy Rodriguez continues his mastery of the Cubs. Wuertz bats; why not? Wuertz strikes out swinging in just his fifth career plate appearance. Theriot singles to right. DeRosa hits it deep to center but Pence runs it down.

Astros 4, Cubs 0

Sixth inning

Ha, yeah, Steve Stone posed for "Playgirl" sometime. Not that I've seen it. Harray Caray appeared in former ballgirl Marla Collins' spread in "Playboy," too. They had quite the swinging booth back in the day. I do remember when Horace Grant was in some low-budge nudie magazie. Ausmus draws a walk. Wandy pops a bunt in the air. Blanco grabs in on a bounce in front of the plate and throws to second. It's ruled a foul ball. Lou comes out and argues, but you can see his hearts not in it. He retreats. Wandy pops up the bunt with two strikes and Ramirez catches it. With Pence up, Ausmus swipes second. Replays shows he was out. DeRosa got him on the arm. Oh, well. Pence jacks a two-run homer to left. They'll be toasting Hunter Pence heartily at the country club later. Top notch, top notch! Biggio strikes out swinging and walks back to the dugout muttering to himself. Berkman doubles to the right-field corner. Wuertz walks Carlos Lee and here's Larry Rothschild out for another chat. Loretta lines out to Jones in center but not before Hunter has his way with Cubs pitching again.

Astros 6, Cubs 0

Lee strikes out looking at a pitch on the outside corner, which is his thing now. Ramirez rips one off Wigginton's glove at third. It's ruled a hit. Monroe pops out to Biggio. Murton draws a walk, putting two on for Blanco. Blanco pops up a 3-1 pitch that Loretta takes on the outfield grass.

Astros 6, Cubs 0

Seventh inning

Kerry Wood comes on to pitch and will bat sixth in Murton's spot. Murton takes a seat. Pie takes over in center and will hit ninth. Monore moves from right to left and Jones from center to right. Wood strikes out Wigginton. Burke flies out to Monroe in left. Monroe thought he was closer to the wall than he was and reached back with his off hand but nothing was there. Ausmus walks. Orlando Palmeiro hits for the great Wandy Rodriguez. Palmeiro flies out to Monroe. And speaking of Horace Grant, here's BJ Armstrong to sing TMOTTBG.

Righty Dave Borkowski is the Astros' new pitcher. Cubs hitters have to have better luck with this guy. Maybe. Jones grounds out to third. BJ Armstrong is praising Jerry Krause. C'mon BJ, you can come clean. Pence makes a running catch on a Pie popup to shallow center. And just as Armstrong was getting to some good Bulls stories, Theriot bounces out for the third out. So the Cubs rally when Peter Cetera is in the booth but not with a former Bull?

Astros 6, Cubs 0

Eighth inning

Wood remains and he'll have to deal with civic menace Hunter Pence. Wood strikes out Pence swinging. Len is wondering how BJ Armstrong would fare in a game of HORSE with Pat Hughes. Apparently Pat, who played some ball at San Jose State, can fill it up. Biggio flies out to Jones in right. Berkman bounces out to second.

Borkowski strikes out DeRosa. So that plexiglass around those super-expensive seats they put in around the dugout after the 2003 season, what's that for other than to seriously maim a player? Anyone watching the game last night saw it nearly severed Derrek Lee in two like the android Bishop in "Aliens," or, as someone on the board said, put him in the body slices exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Lee strikes out swinging at a slider low and away. Ramirez singles to right. Monroe singles up the middle. Daryle Ward, hitting for Wood, singles to right and somehow, someway the Cubs score a run. Cliff Floyd will hit for Blanco. Astros interim manager and former Brewers slugger Cecil Cooper will make a pitching change. It's lefty Trever Miller. Floyd pops out to short and so much for all that.

Astros 6, Cubs 1

Ninth inning

"Stevie" Eyre takes over on the mound; Kendall behind the plate. Lee pops out to center and Pie takes it in a crowd. The Cubs scored on Daryle Ward's pinch-hit single. Damn thing didn't save my work. Loretta takes a called third strike. Wigginton takes a called third, too.

Jones, followed by Pie and Theriot in the ninth. Jones falls behind 1-2 and strikes out. Pie waves a 2-2 pitch low and away. Len reads the credits, officially ending this one. Regardless, Theriot will bat just for kicks and lines out to Lee in left.

Final: Astros 6, Cubs 1

Wandy Rodriguez and Hunter Pence treat the Cubs like a chewtoy. Later.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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