CHICAGO – The last-place Cubs were in an ideal position to take the lead in the eighth inning. However, a lack of clutch hitting and two questionable calls by the umpires put a halt to a potential big inning.
After the Cubs floundered a scoring opportunity in the eighth inning, former Cub Ronny Cedeno’s squeeze bunt drove in Justin Maxwell with the tiebreaking run in the ninth inning to lead the Houston Astros to a 4-3 victory Saturday.
Jose Cisnero (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and Jose Veras finished for his 15th save in 18 chances.
Alfonso Soriano reached scoring position in the bottom of the eighth with a double to left field but was called out by second base umpire David Rackley on a pickoff play that drew Cubs manager Dale Sveum out of the dugout for an argument.
“It’s a broken record. We just can’t seem to get that hit to break the game open in those situations. We get guys on and we just can’t get them in,” said Sveum.
Replays showed Soriano made it back to the bag before the tag. Ryan Sweeney then hit a single that would have given Soriano a great opportunity to score. Instead, the Cubs loaded the bases before Darwin Barney flied out to end the inning. Barney thought he drove in the go-ahead run when a 3-1 pitched appeared to be inside, but home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi called the pitch a strike. Barney had already flipped his bat and was headed to first when the veteran ump called the pitch a strike.
“Soriano is safe at second base so there is a run. And the guy [Cisnero] is throwing the ball all over the place and Barney takes the 3-1 pitch and it’s 8 inches inside and he pops up,” said Sveum. “It’s a shame.”
J.D. Martinez tied the game with a three-run homer in the sixth for Houston.
Maxwell hit a leadoff double in the ninth against Kevin Gregg (2-1) and moved to third on Matt Dominguez’s sacrifice. Cedeno followed with another sacrifice bunt, putting the Astros ahead.
Nate Schierholtz hit a solo homer in the fifth to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. It was his 10th homer this season, setting a career high.
Cubs starter Travis Wood appeared to be in control after getting a pair of outs to start the sixth inning. But after hard-hit singles by Jose Altuve and Chris Carter, Martinez tied the game with a long home run that cleared the left-field bleachers on its way to Waveland Avenue.
“Literally out of a park that was my only one this is really only park you can do it everywhere else you got to hit it 900 feet,” said Martinez.
Astros manager Bo Porter was more impressed with the Astros fundamentals than Martinez’s long home run.
“Again, it comes down to break points we’ve talked about it from the beginning of spring training. And in order to play these types of close games, you have to play good baseball,” Porter said. “What I love about our ball club is even though we make some mistakes, they don’t hang their head. They keep battling, they keep fighting and we find a way to either get ourselves back into the game or make it a ball game every night. And today we were able to get the big hit to get back into the game and won a few more break points after we were able to tie the game to come out with the victory.”
Wood had given up just two hits heading into the sixth and looked primed to earn his first victory in his last four starts.
“I didn’t feel tired or anything and I was cruising but I have to bear down there knowing the tying run is at the plate,” he said. “I missed bad. It was supposed to be back door and ended it up coming all the way across the plate and that just can’t happen.”
Luis Valbuena put the Cubs ahead with a two-run single in the third after a pair of Houston errors.
Barney hit a grounder to third that looked like a sure double play, but Dominguez threw high to second. Astros catcher Carlos Corporan compounded the mistake with an errant pickoff attempt that hit second base and ricocheted into shallow left field, allowing both runners to advance.
Notes: The Cubs are 7-3 in interleague play with 10 games remaining. They haven’t had a winning record against the American League since 2007 (8-4). ... Jeff Samardzija (4-7, 3.35 ERA) pitches Sunday for the Cubs against Jordan Lyles (4-1, 3.22).