Alfonso Soriano doesn’t get mad often. So when his temper flared up in the bottom of the eighth, you knew it was due to the frustration of yet another scoring chance slipping away from him and the Cubs.
The Cubs had the lead through much of Saturday’s game, and they had more than a few chances to either add to that lead or regain it once it had been lost. In the end, those missed opportunities piled up, and the Cubs dropped the contest to the visiting Houston Astros, 4-3, in front of 38,870 at Wrigley Field.
The game was tied at 3 when Soriano doubled with one out in the bottom of the eighth. An intentional walk to Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs a late opportunity to deliver their second win in as many days against their former division rivals. But with Ryan Sweeney batting, Houston reliever Jose Cisnero wheeled around and threw to second, where a sliding Soriano was called out on a pick-off by second base umpire David Rackley.
Soriano wasn’t happy with the call, nor was manager Dale Sveum. But neither man’s visible disagreement resulted in a reversal of the call, and so two outs there were.
“I never get mad,” Soriano said after the game. “It’s not an easy job they have. But when I get mad with something they call it’s just because it’s 100 percent that I have the right call. They didn’t have the right call and called me out. But I knew that I was safe, and that’s why I got mad. But it’s part of the game. I have a lot of respect for the umpires because, like I said, it’s not an easy job they have. He called me out, and I got mad because I know that I’m safe.”
And that wouldn’t be the last disagreement the Cubs would have with an umpire that inning. Even after Soriano being picked off, the Cubs managed to load the bases, presenting yet another chance. Darwin Barney worked a 3-1 count on the suddenly wild Cisnero, and he thought he had forced in the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded walk when the next pitch went by. He tossed his bat aside but was greeted only with a strike call from home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. A few pitches later, he popped out, and the inning was over.
“Soriano’s safe at second base. There’s a run,” Sveum said, recounting the afternoon’s could-have-beens. “And the guy’s throwing the ball all over the place. Barney takes a 3-1 pitch, and it’s eight inches inside. Instead it’s a pop-up and an out. It’s a shame.”
The game wouldn’t be tied for long, though, when the Astros finally cashed in on one of their opportunities shortly after the Cubs missed out on perhaps their best of the game.
Cubs closer Kevin Gregg hasn’t blown a save opportunity this year, and with the game tied heading to the ninth, he wasn’t going to Saturday. But he did give up a lead-off double to Justin Maxwell, which was followed by back-to-back sacrifice bunts off the bats of Matt Dominguez and former Cub Ronny Cedeno that allowed the speedy Maxwell to reach third and then score with ease. The bunted-in run gave the Astros a 4-3 lead that would be secured with a scoreless bottom of the ninth.
While the game-winning run was driven in with the smallest of blows, the biggest was the one that tied the game in the sixth. The Cubs had a 3-0 lead thanks to a two-run Luis Valbuena single and a solo homer from Nate Schierholtz. And, with another terrific performance being turned in by Travis Wood, it appeared the Cubs were well on their way to a win. But after getting two quick fly outs in the top of the sixth, Wood allowed back-to-back singles before left fielder J.D. Martinez crushed a game-tying three-run shot out onto Waveland Avenue.
Along the way, both teams were stranding baserunners like they had taken an ill-fated trip on the S.S. Minnow.
The Cubs left the bases loaded not just in the eighth but also in the third following Valbuena’s single. They left another two the following inning, and the Astros stranded one runner -- who often reached with fewer than two outs -- in five separate frames.
“That’s a broken record,” Sveum said. “We just can’t seem to get that hit to bust the game open in those situations. We get guys on, but we just can’t get them in.”
Wood ended up earning no decision, snapping a three-start losing streak in his first outing without a decision since May 19 against the Mets. He allowed three runs, the 14th time in 15 starts this season that he’s given up three earned runs or fewer. He allowed five hits and struck out five, walked one and hit a batter in six innings of work.
Though Wood kept heaping blame for the loss on his pitch that ended up out in the street, Soriano knows there is a different problem that needs fixing.
“It’s been the whole year like that, where we haven’t got a big hit when we need it,” Soriano said. “So there’s frustration, but we’ve got to try and forget this game today, come back tomorrow and win the series tomorrow.”