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Furious Ninth-Inning Rally Falls Just Short; Cubs' Winning Streak Ends At Five, 6-5 To Astros

On December 22, 1962, Charles Schulz, a Giants fan, published a "Peanuts" strip in which Charlie Brown and Linus sat silent for three panels and then in the fourth, Charlie Brown says, "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?" -- this, in reference to McCovey's line drive in Game Seven of the 1962 World Series, which was snared by Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson for the final out in a 1-0 Yankees win which won the Series. There were runners on second and third; had the ball gone through, the Giants likely would have won the game and the Series.

Today's 6-5 Cubs loss to the Astros, which snapped their five-game winning streak, is, naturally, far less important than a World Series Game Seven. Nevertheless, if Geovany Soto's line drive in the last of the ninth goes three feet higher, it would have wound up in the left field corner and at the very least, would have scored Derrek Lee with the tying run, and possibly Milton Bradley with the winning run.

It's a frustrating loss not because of this, but because the Cubs had so many chances to pile multiple runs on the board in the early innings against Brian Moehler. They scored two runs before an out was made in the third, but that's as far as it went; six Cubs were stranded in the first four innings. The Cubs did hit the ball hard even when making outs in the early innings -- Rich Harden's fly ball that ended the second with the bases loaded hit the warning track and if not for the wind blowing in over the RF wall, might have been a grand slam. Further, despite Harden's blowup in the fourth, when he allowed Ivan Rodriguez's 300th career homer, the Cubs trailed only 4-3 when he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

That's where the frustration comes in: Jose Ascanio should be on the fast track back to Des Moines, because what he did in the first three plate appearances against him is among the worst things I've ever seen a Cub pitcher do. His first two pitches hit batters, then, after a Lance Berkman single scored one run, Ascanio wild-pitched in what wound up being the decisive run of the game... and then, he completely settled down, retiring the next six men in a row including Soto's throwout of Berkman trying to steal third (a missed sign, probably). The brass obviously likes Ascanio because of his arm -- his numbers at Iowa this year were quite good -- but he somehow appears to lose focus in the major leagues. Angel Guzman hurriedly warmed up after the two HBP's, and maybe it would have been a good idea to send Geo out, then send Larry Rothschild out, slowly have him walk back to the dugout, then have Lou come out when Guzman was ready to go. Send Ascanio back to Iowa and bring someone else up till Friday, when Carlos Zambrano will return from the DL. Today, Z made a rehab start for Daytona:

Zambrano worked three-and-two-thirds innings of five hit baseball with four earned runs, three walks and a strike out. He threw 67 total pitches with 42 going for strikes and topped out at 94 mph. Afterwards, the Venezuelan said he felt good throughout but struggled with his release point, something he will work on during his next bullpen session before returning to the Cubs rotation on May 22 against the San Diego Padres.

Despite the loss, the ninth-inning comeback was nice to see; both runs scored after two were out. Derrek Lee's single in that tinning was his fourth hit of the game and he hit the ball with authority, driving his double and home run deep into left-center field. We hope this is not an anomaly, but instead the beginning of Lee coming around. Milton Bradley also had a RBI single with two out in the ninth, just before Soto's smash which was grabbed by Keppinger to end the game.

Before the game NBC talk show host Conan O'Brien did a stunt in which he ran across the field being "chased" by security guards, from the RF corner into the Cubs dugout, after which he came out and bowed, as part of a piece that's going to be used for his introduction as "Tonight Show" host. Pretty lame, if you ask me. Maybe he should practice "Vroom, vroom, partystarter" some more.

The Cubs did have a successful homestand at 4-1 and again stand, at 21-15, exactly where they did a year ago. They'll head to St. Louis to face a depleted Cardinals team (missing the disabled Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel) that also will lose their scheduled off-day tomorrow, instead playing a makeup game with the Brewers from Friday's rainout. On Wednesday, Ryan Demspter will face Chris Carpenter, who is expected to be activated from the DL for that game. Enjoy the off day -- I'm sure the Cubs will.