Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Cubs go out to an early lead, then cough it up because the other guys got ONE key hit, and then the Cubs have numerous chances to get back in the game, but can't get that one key hit themselves, stranding runners all over creation.
You didn't stop me, but that's pretty much the summary of last night's frustrating 5-3 Cub loss to the Cardinals. This photo from cubs.com pretty much sums it up:
A look of determination on Jason Marquis' face, probably just before he gave up the critical two-out, two-run double to Albert Pujols that broke the 2-2 tie in the fourth inning. For the rest of the night, it was play-catchup time. And in the seventh inning, the score now 5-2 Cardinals, the Cubs could have and should have gotten back into it -- loading the bases with nobody out and having the middle of the batting order up. Even Alfonso Soriano contributed, singling after Ronny Cedeno reached on a HBP. Ryan Theriot worked the count full and then sliced a single through the infield.
But D-Lee flied out, too shallow to score a run. Kosuke Fukudome's fly ball was deep enough to score Cedeno, but that's all the Cubs could muster against Tony LaRussa's two pitching changes -- got to give the Cardinals credit, so far rookie RHP Kyle McClellan has been lights-out. It's too early to know whether McClellan can keep this up all year, but he is one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals find themselves in first place. I'm still not convinced Todd Wellemeyer is going to be an effective starting pitcher for a full season, but last night, he did the job they needed him to do, and unlike Friday night, St. Louis' bullpen did its job.
And that's all the Cubs got, despite drawing six more walks and having runners all over the place. They really missed having Aramis Ramirez in the middle of the order last night.
Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other guys. Jason Marquis was shaky again, and perhaps the key play of the game was the walk he issued to Adam Kennedy just before Pujols' two-out double. Kennedy is not an easy player to walk -- his lifetime OBA coming into last night's game was only .329 -- and those two runs were the difference. The Cardinals came through in a critical situation and the Cubs didn't. Those things are going to happen in a long season.
Positive sign: Sean Gallagher threw the last two innings, worked fast, threw strikes (and only 19 pitches total), and kept the game close. He looked far more confident than the scared-looking 22-year-old kid who put up an 8.59 ERA in eight appearances in 2007. If he keeps that up he may wind up in the rotation, if guys like Marquis continue to struggle.
That's enough. Let's move on to Cincinnati to face a team that's really having trouble and beat up on them, starting tonight.