Carlos Zambrano was cruising fairly well through five innings of one hit ball. The offense had just had back to back innings of posting two runs to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the 6th inning. One more good inning out of Zambrano and things set up nicely for the bullpen to sew things up for a Cubs win against division leader Cincinnati right?
After striking out former Cub Miguel Cairo to lead of the frame, Zambrano gave up a single that deflected off of third baseman Aramis Ramirez. He then proceeded to put himself in a jam by walking Edgar Renteria. After the walk, the Cubs pitcher allowed three consecutive hits, giving the Reds four runs in what seemed like a blink of an eye. Young arm Marcos Mateo was brought in to relieve the veteran. But in a tough spot with runners on second and third with only one out, the rookie threw a wild pitch to allow another run before serving up a home run to Jonny Gomes. And before you knew it, the Cubs were down 7-4.
Mean while, going back to the scoring the Cubs did put up, the Cubs were gifted a run on a fielder’s choice play hit into by Zambrano. Darwin Barney continued his strong start to his first full rookie season with a single to drive in the second run one batter later. The young second baseman went 3 for 4 on the night. The Cubs scoring was capped off by a Carlos Pena two run homer in the 6th inning that gave the Cubs the short lived 4-0 lead.
And in hindsight, the Cubs are regretting the chances they did not cash in on throughout the game. The most glaring one was in the 1st inning when Reds starter Homer Bailey walked the bases loaded with one out. But Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd both struck out to end that threat. On one hand, you have to credit the Cubs offense for scoring the four runs later in the game after blowing a chance like this to start the game, but on the other, any baseball team needs to cash in at least one run from not only a bases loaded situation with less than two outs, but any situation involving a runner in scoring position thanks to walks.
The Cubs have blown leads late in games at least a couple times already this season, but this one hurts the most. They not only had a four run lead in the 6th inning, but until that frame their starting pitcher had been tossing one hit ball with their solid bullpen being lined up to take over from the 7th inning on. In the short two game set, it would have put the Cubs in position to gain two games on the division leading Reds with a series sweep and even their record in the month of May at 7-7 with momentum swinging back up in their favor.
Instead the Cubs lost and now sit six games back, tied with the Pirates for the fourth spot in the NL Central. They are at a season low so far of five games under, and as Jordan mentioned last night, there are signs that the pressure is starting to crack the Cubs ship captained by new manager Mike Quade. Almost all the experts in the media had the Cubs pegged as bottom feeders for the 2011 season. In these final two plus weeks of games left in May, we are most likely to find out whether this team will settle for accepting the predictions that surround them, or if they do in fact have some fight and pride in them to at least make a push to be pretenders.