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Drawing a blank: Astros, Oswalt shut out Cubs
Houston right-hander Roy Oswalt joined the conga line of opposing starters who've managed to shut down the Cubs in the last week, turning the league's top-ranked offense into a popgun attack Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Oswalt pitched 81/3 shutout innings in Houston's 3-0 win over the Cubs, handing them their third straight loss at home.
While fans accustomed to singing along with "Go, Cubs, Go" after every game go into karaoke withdrawal, and the "L" flag gets its first real workout of the season, the players themselves aren't panicking over the recent skid.
Manager Lou Piniella said Sunday that the fans and media have been spoiled by the Cubs' success, and first baseman Derrek Lee agreed.
"I hope so," he said. "You want to get accustomed to winning. We've had a good season. There's still a long way to go, so we're not relaxing or anything. We just haven't scored for a few days here. It's happened to us a couple times before this year, and we'll turn it around."
Over the Cubs' last six games, opposing starters Zach Duke, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Oswalt have combined for a 1.96 earned-run average, giving the Cubs' starters little room for error. Jason Marquis outpitched Duke last Wednesday and pitched well again on Monday, but he couldn't get any support.
"This guy (Oswalt) is a good pitcher, the Phillies threw some good pitching at us," Piniella said. "These are the type of guys you're going to have to hit. Today we didn't. Let's see what happens [Tuesday]. What we need is for [ Carlos] Zambrano to give us a good ballgame and get us on track again."
Marquis (9-8) allowed two runs on five hits over six innings while striking out eight, his highest total as a Cub. But the Cubs' sluggish offense was clueless against Oswalt, and has gone 28 consecutive innings without an extra-base hit since Alfonso Soriano's home run in the eighth inning of Friday's win over Philadelphia. They've hit 27 singles since then, scoring only five runs.
Piniella inserted Kosuke Fukudome into the No. 2 hole in an effort to jump-start the struggling right fielder, hoping he'd see a few more fastballs with Lee batting behind him.
"It's a good spot to hit in," Piniella said.
But Fukudome went 0-for-4, including a ninth-inning force out at second against closer Jose Valverde with runners on first and second and one out. Piniella had red-hot lefty hitter Micah Hoffpauir on the bench and available to pinch-hit, but Piniella opted to stick with Fukudome, who hit .193 in August and came in batting .231 since the All-Star break.
How much longer he'll stick with Fukudome remains to be seen. Instead of meeting the media 10 minutes after the game, Piniella spent a long time in conference with his coaching staff, kicking around lineup changes that will turn things around.
The game was scoreless in the fourth when Miguel Tejada hit a shot off the top of the left-field wall that ricocheted into the Cubs' bullpen. By the time Soriano had tracked it down, Tejada had a triple.
After a walk to Lance Berkman, Geoff Blum hit a sacrifice fly to medium center, with Tejada beating Jim Edmonds' throw to the plate.
"If Edmonds' throw was accurate to home plate, I think we get Tejada at home, and we might get out of that inning with nothing," Piniella said.
Instead, Hunter Pence added an RBI single to make it 2-0.
The Astros added a single run off Jeff Samardzija's wild pitch in the eighth, and now it's up to Zambrano to right the ship.