HOUSTON — One of the biggest reasons for the Cubs early-season success has been Ryan Dempster's smooth transition from closer to starter.
But Dempster couldn't overcome his own wildness during one bad inning Tuesday night in a 4-2 loss to Houston before a crowd of 33,339 at Minute Maid Park.
Dempster walked two men in the fourth to load the bases for Hunter Pence, who unloaded an opposite-field grand slam to turn a two-run deficit into a two-run lead.
"The home run is a home run," said Dempster, who was more upset by the two walks that led up to the grand slam. "Bad inning management."
The Cubs offense couldn't get it going against Chris Sampson and two Astros relievers who led Houston to its 13th victory in 18 games since May 1.
The Cubs entered Tuesday's game with the league's top-ranked pitching in the month of May, recording a 3.26 earned-run average. Dempster had posted a 0.89 ERA in his previous three starts and looked like he was gunning for an All-Star berth.
While Dempster (5-2) pitched well most of the night and said he felt as good as he has all year, he still wound up allowing four runs in six innings, his first mediocre outing in more than a month. In each of his previous six starts, Dempster had given up three or fewer earned runs.
After Aramis Ramirez's two-run homer off Sampson gave the Cubs the lead in the fourth, Dempster struggled in the bottom of the inning. Miguel Tejada led off with a double, Dempster walked the red-hot Lance Berkman and then loaded the bases with a one-out pass to Geoff Blum, who came into the night hitting .205.
Dempster had issued five walks in 201/3 innings in his last three starts, so the wildness was unexpected.
"Berkman, I didn't really want to walk him," Dempster said. "I was trying to make a good pitch. But Blum, I was fine walking him to load the bases and set up the double play and face the righty (Pence)."
Dempster fell behind Pence 2-0 before serving up a fat pitch over the middle that landed in the second row of the right-field bleachers to give the Astros a 4-2 lead.
"I thought he pitched well," manager Lou Piniella said of Dempster. "The walk to Blum got him in trouble, and then getting behind in the count with the bases loaded, he had to come in. But he competed well and he threw the ball well."
Sampson, who beat the Cubs 4-3 April 4 at Wrigley Field, allowed two runs on seven hits in 62/3 innings, improving to 3-0 against the Cubs in his career with a 1.59 ERA.
The Cubs last real scoring opportunity came in the seventh when Geovany Soto singled leading off. But Jim Edmonds grounded into a double play and, after Mark DeRosa singled and pinch-hitter Micah Hoffpauir walked, Doug Brocail entered to strike out Alfonso Soriano.
After hitting seven home runs last week and being named National League Player of the Week on Monday, Soriano is 0-for-8 in the first two games of the trip.
"I'm trying to do too much," Soriano said. "I have to relax and wait for my pitch."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times