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Astros' Carlos Lee remains a Cubs killer
Houston left fielder Carlos Lee has made a pretty good living as a Cubs killer, dating all the way back to his days on the South Side.
And after being held to two singles and one RBI in the first two games of the series, Lee finally broke out Wednesday night with a three-run homer on an 0-2 slider from Sean Gallagher that propelled the Astros to a 5-3 victory at Minute Maid Park.
"You try to bounce that ball, try to make him chase a bad pitch," manager Lou Piniella said. "He just hung it up there on a platter. [Lee] makes $100 million doing those sort of things."
Astros right-hander Shawn Chacon, who set a major-league record last week with his ninth straight no-decision to open a season, notched his first victory as relievers Doug Brocail and Jose Valverde shut down the Cubs for the second straight night.
Houston took two of three after losing the opener, leaving the Cubs with nine losses in their last 13 road games.
"We're obviously better at home, which you're supposed to be," Derrek Lee said. "I don't think we're too far off. Houston was a hot team. I think we should have won one of these last two games, so we need to do a little better job on the road. But I don't think it's like we're terrible on the road."
In his third start since replacing Jon Lieber in the rotation, Gallagher (1-1) had his first rough outing, allowing five runs on eight hits in 42/3 innings. With Sean Marshall throwing well at Triple-A Iowa and Piniella's preference for two left-handers in the rotation, Gallagher doesn't have much room for error.
"Gallagher has a nice arm," Piniella said. "In fact, he has a better arm than what I thought he had. But what I've seen in his couple of starts is his second and third pitches need to improve. Today he got ahead of the hitters consistently and didn't put them away."
After the Cubs staked Gallagher to a 3-0 lead in the first on Lee's two-run homer and Geovany Soto's RBI double, Gallagher gave it away in the third. Miguel Tejada drilled a single off Gallagher's leg to drive in the first run before Lance Berkman struck out on a 95-m.p.h. fastball. But "El Caballo" then drilled a home run off the top of the left-field wall to give Houston a 4-3 lead.
Lee now has 24 home runs off Cubs pitchers over his career—averaging one for every 13.7 at-bats—along with 68 RBIs.
Gallagher blamed himself for bad execution.
"Left it right up over the heart of the plate," he said.
Geoff Blum's two-out, RBI single in the fifth made it 5-3, prompting Gallagher's early exit. After three hits off Chacon in the first, the Cubs finished with only five on the night. Their only hit from the second through the sixth was a two-out single in the second by leadoff man Ryan Theriot, who then was picked off.
The Cubs' only bright spot was the play of rookie Micah Hoffpauir, who replaced Alfonso Soriano in left and wound up with the first two hits, doubles, of his major-league career.
"We're looking for some left-handed hitting that can drive the ball," Piniella said. "And if this young man can, we'll find a place for him in the lineup."