The Cubs had a chance to go for the throat Saturday night after coming back to beat St. Louis 3-2 in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.
But a poor decision by third-base coach Mike Quade, a lazy throw by catcher Jason Kendall and an offensive letdown led to a 4-3 loss in the nightcap, leaving the Cubs a game ahead of Milwaukee and six ahead of the Cardinals after a long and draining day.
Manager Lou Piniella complained afterward about scheduling a day-nighter in the heat of a pennant race.
"It's not an easy day, believe me," Piniella said. "I don't know why Major League Baseball allows these type of doubleheaders at the end of the year, I really don't. But that's not for me to decide. [You] play a game at noon and sit around all day and then have to play again at night.
"If you play a doubleheader, play a [straight] doubleheader and forget about it."
The Cubs had only one hit in the nightcap after Derrek Lee's leadoff double in the third, going down meekly against Joel Pineiro and relievers Russ Springer and Jason Isringhausen.
Did the Cubs lose focus?
"I don't know about the focus, but it's a long day," Piniella said.
Aramis Ramirez refused to discuss a jawing match he had in the eighth inning with Springer, who apparently made a disparaging comment about his lack of hustle on an inning-ending popup.
After saying he'd discuss "baseball only," Ramirez was asked about the incident, which was replayed on TV.
"I'm not going to talk about Springer," he said. "I don't even know what happened."
Alfonso Soriano hit a go-ahead two-run homer off Ryan Franklin in the eighth inning of Game 1 to launch the Cubs to their comeback win in the opener, but the Cubs let the Cardinals off the hook in Game 2.
Sean Marshall blew a three-run lead and failed to get out of the third inning. Quade watched Lee get thrown out at the plate by center fielder Jim Edmonds on Mark DeRosa's liner in the first and Ryan Theriot get thrown out by left fielder So Taguchi on Marshall's single in the second.
Quade said the decision to send Lee was sound but second-guessed himself on the call on Theriot.
"I thought Taguchi was moving enough to his left that he was going to make an accurate throw very tough," he said. "And I was wrong. Good throw, and maybe I was overaggressive with a faster runner."
Soriano clubbed a two-run homer to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead, but Marshall fell apart after Ryan Ludwick reached with one out in the third when Kendall dropped strike three and bounced a routine throw to first.
Kendall took the blame.
"I didn't make the play," he said. "It was a frustrating play. It happened. I feel worse than anyone in the stadium."
The Cardinals promptly scored four runs off Marshall, and the Cubs' offense flatlined the rest of the night.
Hours earlier, the Cubs were feeling quite good about themselves after Soriano's homer had won Game 1. Soriano watched the ball soar into the left-field bleachers with his bat still in his hand before taking a celebratory jog around the bases.
"I'm not trying to be cocky or something, but at the moment, in the eighth inning, it was a big homer," he said. "I was very excited to give us the lead."
Kerry Wood, who pitched a pair of perfect innings while working in both games, earned his first win since May 29, 2006, in the opener.
"If this were a football game, we'd give him the game ball," Piniella said.
But the Cubs failed to knock out the Cardinals in Game 2, and though St. Louis remains on life support, stranger things have happened.
Lee said the Cardinals were still a "good distance" back but cautioned: "You never want to count them out. You would have thought they were out of it before and they came back."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times