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Reds 5, Cubs 4: The Game No One Wanted

Luis Valbuena hit a two-run homer in the 13th inning. He should be happy! But no, he looks sad, perplexed and even angry, because the Cubs did not win the game.

Andy Lyons

You know, I had a real nice recap of this game almost all ready to go after Luis Valbuena hit a two-run homer in the top of the 13th inning to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. What could go wrong?

Well, you know the answer to that. The key was a fly ball to right field by Brandon Phillips that Dave Sappelt couldn't handle; if Sappelt catches that ball, we likely move on to the 14th inning and who knows? This one could still be going. The first 12 innings, though, had dragged on Monday night in Cincinnati, with the Cubs stranding 12 and the Reds leaving eight runners. Before the decisive 13th inning, the teams had combined for 15 hits, 10 walks... and four runs. Neither team seemed to want to win, but after Sappelt's drop -- which was ruled a double -- Jay Bruce doubled in Phillips and Xavier Paul, who singled on an 0-2 pitch, to tie the game. (Hey, Michael Bowden. How about wasting a pitch on 0-2?) Bruce advanced to third on a groundout -- which might have ended the inning if Sappelt makes that play -- and scored the game-winner on a single by Cesar Izturis.

Did I just write that? Cesar Izturis? The guy the Cubs dumped six years ago? It doesn't seem to matter which team the Cubs play, there's some former Cub around to ruin things.

Before that, an error was made in the top of the 13th by Reds third baseman Todd Frazier on a ground ball that went through his legs; Welington Castillo wound up on second base. After Luis Valbuena showed bunt on a couple of pitches, he smacked a 400-plus-foot two-run homer. It looked like the Cubs would finally have their first extra-inning win of the year (they lost their one other extra-inning contest, the April 14 game at Wrigley against the Giants that was one pitch away from a victory in the ninth).

The Cubs have now played 11 games decided by two runs or less -- and have gone 3-7 in those games, and this loss now gives them a 2-5 record in one-run games. If they can play better defense -- as they did Monday night, especially Starlin Castro's great snag of a Chris Heisey line drive -- good things can start happening. That was shown off the other way in this game, because a Reds error helped lead to two Cubs runs. Unfortunately, another weakness of this team -- relief pitching -- failed, causing the loss.

Props to Travis Wood, who put together the Cubs' 10th quality start in 18 games. Until the disastrous 13th, Shawn Camp, James Russell, Carlos Marmol (who somehow managed two scoreless innings, the first time he's done that since September 16, 2011), Kevin Gregg (amazing!) and Michael Bowden had gotten the job done, but that second inning of work from Bowden was his undoing. (Why didn't Dale Sveum bring in Kameron Loe? Loe hadn't thrown since Saturday.)

The game slogged on till almost midnight in Cincinnati, more than four and a half hours of baseball. It's always good when your team wins one of those; losing in the way the Cubs did was extra-painful.

Despite this 5-13 start, I just don't think this team is that bad. They have yet to be blown out -- the most runs they've allowed is in that 10-7 extra-inning loss to the Giants, and they have had just three of the 18 games decided by more than three runs (one win, two losses). It's the little things that have led to all those defeats, and unfortunately, so far this Cubs team has done most of the little things wrong. (At least there were no errors Monday night.)

We are now, again, unfortunately, at a point where I can compare this to "worst starts ever" by a Cubs team -- and this one, sadly, ranks up there. Only five teams in Cubs history have begun worse than 5-13 in their first 18 games:

1997: 2-16
1944: 2-16
1981: 3-14 *
1962: 4-14
1966: 4-14

* The first 18 games of 1981 included one tie. That team lost its next game to go to 3-15 in its first 18 decisions.

I'm sure you recognize some of the worst teams in franchise history in that list. This team looks like it could join them... and yet, with just a few breaks, it could have won five or six more games. Maybe after this series, playing the Marlins and Padres, can help. Otherwise... it's going to be a really long year.