Rainy day, slick surface, and a loss.
Welcome to the first race on the slick surface at rainy Great American Race Track.
Scratch that. Welcome to the first race on the slick surface at rainy Great American Ball Park, where the Cubs dropped a wild 5-4 decision in front of a crowd of 36,635.
Wait a minute. Is this a baseball season or a horseracing season? It might be a little bit of both in Cubs manager Lou Piniella’s book as the end of July turns into August.
“Truthfully, the baseball season in earnest starts around now,” Piniella said. “The first four months are jockeying for position. Now the real race begins. And August is a cruel month in a lot of ways. The teams that play well in August are the ones who survive this thing and have a real good chance at the end. This is an important stretch for us starting in Cincinnati.
“This month has a way of separating the teams. They don’t call it the dog days of August for nothing.”
It’s not yet August but this horse race or baseball game or whatever you want to call it turned into a near photo finish when the Cubs (53-48), tied the game up in the bottom of the ninth with a thrilling two-run rally, highlighted by RBI singles from Mark DeRosa and Jason Kendall. But Jacque Jones, who reached on a fielder’s choice, was thrown out at the plate for the second out in the inning to help stifle the rally.
Edwin Encarnacion singled home Norris Hopper for the game winner off Bob Howry (5-6) and the Reds celebrated. And the Cubs dropped two in a row and fell back to three games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central.
The North Siders’ offense has 17 runs in six and seven of those runs came in one game.
DeRosa, who missed a pair of games with tendinitis in his left hamstring, was back in the starting lineup and hit a second-inning double but after that, Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo didn’t allow another hit until DeRosa hit a harmless single in the seventh inning.
The Cubs scored when Derrek Lee hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning to bring home Ryan Theriot and in the eighth when Theriot doubled home Matt Murton before putting the two on the board in the ninth.
Meanwhile left-handed starter Rich Hill had a schizophrenic night, dancing in and out of trouble. The bottom line is that he held the Reds (45-59) to two runs and racked up eight strikeouts in five innings, but he couldn’t go longer because he threw 104 pitches. He gave up six hits and three walks plus he hit a batter. Hill is 2-5 with six no-decisions since May 5.
Hill did his job keeping the Cubs in the game but Piniella brought in Rocky Cherry, who was just called up from Triple-A Iowa in the sixth. Cherry, who had a 2.38 ERA in nine prior appearances, walked David Ross and hit Ryan Freel with a pitch before Jeff Keppinger brought both of them home with a double to left that was misplayed by Alfonso Soriano.
The Cubs are hoping to snap their skid tonight and get the offense back in gear. But it won’t be an easy task.
The Reds are sending out Aaron Harang to the hill and he’s enjoying a 10-2 season with a 3.45 ERA. He is 6-1 in 11 lifetime appearances against the North Siders with a 4.23 ERA.
Cincinnati has been on a roll since former Brother Rice baseball star Pete Mackanin took over for the fired Jerry Narron on July 2. The Reds were 31-51 before they gave Narron the boot and are 14-8 under Mackanin. The team won four of its first six series under Mackanin’s guidance.
More Cubs coverage can be found online at www.dailysouthtown.com/sports