For an inning or two Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs could smell their fifth straight win, which would have tied their season high. Instead, the Cincinnati Reds beat them 7-5 after a two-run rally in the top of the ninth against Cubs closer Carlos Marmol.
The Cubs fell behind early, when three Cubs' errors gave Cincinnati a pair of second-inning runs. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Ryan Theriot each made miscues during the nightmare inning, and neither of the two runs allowed in that frame by starter Randy Wells were earned.
Wells struggled, allowing three more runs in the Cincinnati third. Lee misplayed a ground ball into an RBI single in that inning, too, but Wells hurt his own cause by walking in a run with the bases loaded. The star rookie right-hander threw 89 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season.
The Cubs began chipping away in the bottom of the sixth, however, when Ramirez drove in Ryan Theriot on a single to right-center field. One batter later, Geovany Soto hit a wall-scraping fly ball that narrowly missed landing in the basket in left-center for a three-run home run. The double scored Lee from second, and set up Bobby Scales. Scales, getting his sixth start in left field over the last seven games, extended his RBI streak to three by driving in Ramirez on a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs loaded the bases with one out. After Milton Bradley struck out, Soto came up with another big hit, tying the game with a two-run double. Ramirez was thrown out at the plate on the play, ending the inning.
The Cubs' bullpen pitched well through the eighth inning, allowing five baserunners but no runs over 4 1/3 innings and striking out four. David Patton walked one but struck out two and allowed no hits over 1 1/3 in his first appearance with the Cubs since July 4th.
In the ninth, Carlos Marmol came on in a non-save situation for just the third time since being named the new Cubs' closer in mid-August. Brandon Phillips singled on a line drive to center to lead off the inning, but was promptly erased on a Scott Rolen double play.
Marmol ran into real trouble beginning with the next hitter, however. Jonny Gomes and Adam Rosales each drew their second walks of the game, as Marmol fell back into the control problems that have plagued him all season. Drew Sutton then raked a two-run pinch-hit double into the right field corner to seal the Cubs' fate. In his postgame press conference, manager Lou Piniella expressed frustration with Marmol's continued inability to find the plate.
"This young man wants to be a closer, and that's okay, but you've got to have some command. And if you don't have command, you can't close."
Asked if such considerations would give the Cubs pause before installing Marmol as their 2010 closer, Piniella alluded to Marmol's status as "the heir apparent," but said he has not yet begun to consider who will fill the role next season.
Using His Head: The second Cubs error in the top of the second came when a Ramirez throw toward second hit Cincinnati catcher Corky Miller in the head and deflected into the stands, allowing Miller to score and the other Cincinnati runners to advance to second and third.
"I didn't know where the ball went," Piniella said. "I don't think I've ever seen that before."
Shouldering the Load: Ramirez's RBI in the sixth inning was his 55th in just 67 games this season. He now has nine RBI in as many games in September.