After making the long and winding trek from the visitors' clubhouse to the dugout late Tuesday afternoon, Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora looked out at Wrigley Field and let out a big sigh.
"It's already 1-0, Cubs," Mora said with a straight face, pretending the walk was so long he already had missed the start of the game.
It may seem these days like the Cubs have the lead before they even take the field at home, but when the game started a couple of hours later, the center-field scoreboard still read 0-0.
Baltimore soon cruised to a six-run lead before holding on for a 7-5 victory that snapped the Cubs' home winning streak at 14 games before a crowd of 41,537.
Down two runs entering the ninth, the Cubs loaded the bases against Baltimore closer George Sherrill on Geovany Soto's single, Mark DeRosa's walk and Ryan Theriot's infield single. But Sherrill stunningly proceeded to strike out pinch-hitter Ronny Cedeno, Kosuke Fukudome and pinch-hitter Henry Blanco to end the game.
Sean Marshall wasn't at his sharpest in his first start since replacing the injured Carlos Zambrano in the rotation, allowing four runs on seven hits over 42/3 innings, and the Cubs' late comeback from a 7-1 deficit fell short in the end.
The Cubs came into Tuesday's game with a 32-8 record at Wrigley, but manager Lou Piniella said before the game he was "scared" by a newspaper's headline that his team was "safe at home," knowing no team is ever unbeatable no matter how hot it has been.
"To be honest with you, usually when everybody catches on, it's time you start cooling off," Piniella said. "Let's hope that's not the case. The less you talk about it, the more you concentrate on just playing baseball, the better."
The Cubs came out looking lethargic against Baltimore right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who held them to one run on four hits over the first six innings. Fukudome's fourth-inning home run to center was the only mistake Guthrie made until the seventh, when Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez led off with back-to-back singles.
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley opted to stick with Guthrie against the left-handed-hitting Jim Edmonds, who promptly hit an arching opposite-field home run to pull the Cubs within three at 7-4. But after reliever Jim Johnson walked Soto, DeRosa grounded into a double play on the first pitch, and Theriot grounded out to end the threat.
The Cubs added another run off the Orioles' bullpen in the eighth in an inning starting with a walk to Daryle Ward in his first game back from the disabled list. Ramirez's two-out RBI single off Chad Bradford made it 7-5 and left two men on, prompting Trembley to bring in Sherrill, his left-handed closer.
Piniella countered by pinch-hitting Matt Murton for Edmonds, but Sherrill induced Murton to pop to left on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
Marshall, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa to join the rotation after Zambrano strained his shoulder, tossed three shutout innings before tiring in the fourth.
Luke Scott's two-run triple past Fukudome in right gave Baltimore an early lead, and Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis chipped in with run-scoring hits in the fifth to make it 4-1.
Some miscommunication between left fielder Eric Patterson and Theriot led to a routine fly ball dropping to start the sixth, igniting another three-run inning off relievers Michael Wuertz and Neal Cotts.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times