General view of the Houston Astrodome during a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Sport)
The Houston Astrodome was known as the House of Pain when the NFL's Houston Oilers played there.
That phrase was so true, too, for the Chicago Cubs, who went 83-137 there in the 35 seasons (1965-1999) the Astros called it home. The Cubs couldn't seem to win there even when they were good and the Astros weren't.
In 1986, Houston would go on to win the NL West title while the Cubs struggled through their second straight losing season after the 1984 NL East division title.
This game was no exception to the rule.
I think Jim Frey is panicking and if he keeps this up, Dallas Green might even have to think about replacing him, less than two years after he led the Cubs to their best season since World War II. That's a harsh statement, but after tonight's 9-6 loss to the Astros, the Cubs' third straight loss, it does seem as if Frey is losing it.
This game started out well. Jody Davis and Keith Moreland both homered off Houston's soft-tossing rookie Jim Deshaies in the first inning, and when Davis homered a second time off Deshaies in the top of the sixth, the Cubs had a 6-3 lead; Dennis Eckersley, who was roughed up a bit in the first two innings, had settled down. Incidentally, this is only the second time in the 22 seasons the Cubs have been playing in the Astrodome that they have hit three home runs in a game. They lost the other one, too, 11-7 on May 1, 1974. This place has been the worst road stadium for the Cubs for decades.
Maybe that's why Frey panicked after two of the first three hitters in the bottom of the sixth got hits, with a run scoring, making it 6-4. It's not as if anyone was really hitting Eck hard; sure, he'd given up 10 hits by then, but nine of them were singles and, showing his usual control, Eck hadn't walked anyone.
The Cubs' bullpen has been shaky all year and that's why Frey should have let Eckersley work his own way out of the jam. Jay Baller and Guy Hoffman were awful; Baller got the second out but allowed a single to pinch-hitter Alan Ashby, cutting the lead to 6-5. He wild-pitched pinch-runner Tony Walker to second and then gave up another hit to Bill Doran that tied the game. Hoffman came in and...
... well, you probably don't even want to hear the rest. It was ugly. Three straight hits made it 9-6 Astros, which is where it ended.
Before this latest losing streak, the Cubs had actually climbed out of the 2-8 hole they dug at the beginning of the year, going 11-10. But playing this weekend series in Houston isn't going to help, and neither is trying to climb out of last place, 10.5 games behind, when we're not even in June yet.
You know, the Cubs have a kid named Jamie Moyer who's been throwing great at Double-A and Triple-A this year. Maybe they could bring him up and slide Eckersley over to the bullpen... Eck's control would be a great help there.
Do you think that would work?