The Cubs all-or-nothing offense looked like a pretty good bet against Houston on Tuesday with the wind blowing out at 18 m.p.h. and Brandon Duckworth on the hill.
But "nothing" trumped "all" once again in a 5-3 loss to the Astros as the Cubs continued to hit solo home runs and not much else.
They hit three solo shots against Duckworth in the first four innings but wasted two scoring opportunities with the bases loaded and no outs, stranding seven runners on the night.
"It seems like we're overanxious in those situations," manager Dusty Baker said, adding Astros relievers were "paralyzing" Cubs hitters with two-strike fastballs outside the zone.
"In that situation, the pitcher is in trouble," Baker said. "[The batter] is not in trouble. So we have to change our thought process and realize he's the one with the bases loaded, not the batter."
A controversial call by first base umpire Mike Fichter led to a two-run eighth inning that snapped a 3-3 tie and put the Cubs on the chopping block again.
With a runner on first and two outs, Brad Ausmus hit a slow roller to second off Kyle Farnsworth that forced Todd Walker to make an off-balance throw to first. Walker's throw was wide, causing first baseman Derrek Lee to stretch for it. Fichter ruled Lee's foot wasn't on the bag when Ausmus reached first.
Replays indicated otherwise.
"I thought he was out," Lee said. "He said I came off the base. I didn't feel like I did. I think he had a bad angle. He was over on the other side."
After the error by Walker, Farnsworth (0-3) got ahead of pinch-hitter Mike Lamb 1-2 and had the crowd of 38,667 on its feet. But Lamb got hold of a low fastball and drove it into the gap in left-center, bringing both runners home to make it 5-3.
"We shouldn't have gotten into that situation," Baker said. "And even then, we had one ball and two strikes on Lamb. I thought we'd get out of that situation."
Pitching on three days' rest, Cubs starter Glendon Rusch got off to a rough start, hitting Craig Biggio to lead off the game and serving up a two-run homer to Jeff Bagwell two batters later. The Cubs answered with a solo homer by Todd Hollandsworth in the second, before Jeff Kent extended his hitting streak to 17 games with his eighth home run in the third, making it a 3-1 game.
But Walker's solo shot in the third and Moises Alou's blast onto Waveland Avenue leading off the fourth tied the game again. The Cubs then loaded the bases with no outs, but failed to score when Mike Gallo struck out Corey Patterson and induced Ramon Martinez to hit a check-swing comebacker that resulted in a 1-2-3 double play.
They loaded the bags again with no one out in the sixth, but Astros reliever Dan Miceli (2-2) got Derrek Lee to fly out to shallow right, and struck out Patterson and Martinez.
"I know I'm not getting the job done," Lee said. "I don't know [why]. Maybe I am pressing. I'm not playing the way I should be."
Patterson was booed loudly, and appears to be the new scapegoat for the enigmatic Cubs offense, which is like night and day, depending on what time the game starts. After Tuesday's loss, they're 18-8 with a .300 average in day games, and a 9-16 with a .235 average at night.
The reasons for the huge disparity in the numbers can be debated, but the numbers suggest the Cubs are a team that thrives in sunlight and struggles in the moonlight. Now they'll face Roger Clemens in the sunshine Wednesday.
Astros 5, Cubs 3