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Piniella seeking offense after another Cubs loss
By Matt Beardmore | Daily Herald Correspondent

Chicago Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot throws to first after forcing out Houston Astros' Michael Bourn during the third inning of a baseball game on Friday.

 

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Published: 4/4/2008 5:15 PM | Updated: 4/4/2008 11:11 PM

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Just four games into the season, it's way too early to hit the panic button.

But after Friday's 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros, the 1-3 Cubs realize it's time to hit the ball on the button instead..

And an error-free game would be nice, too.

"You're not going to win too often scoring 2 or 3 runs -- in this league or any league," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, whose team has averaged 3.5 runs per game thus far. "You've got to put 5 or 6 runs on the board. You've got to pitch awfully well -- you can't make any mistakes at all when you put 2 or 3 runs on the board."

Starting pitcher Rich Hill, making his first start of the season following a rough spring, did his part to keep the Cubs in the contest, striking out four and allowing just 4 hits and 2 earned runs in 6 innings.

"The way spring training went, that's over with," said Hill, who threw 53 of 88 pitches for strikes. "To come out here and get back on the aggressive track … I was pleased with the way I threw the ball."

Although he'd like to take back the two-out fourth-inning walk to Mark Loretta, which was followed by the inside fastball to Houston catcher J.R. Towles that just landed in the left-field bleachers.

"Just because there's two outs doesn't mean the inning is over," Hill said. "After those first two outs, that next guy, you've got to bear down even more, almost."

Astros starter Chris Sampson, who took the No. 5 starting job from recently-released Woody Williams, proved to the 37,812 at Wrigley Field that his 2-0 career record and 0.60 ERA against the Cubs was no fluke, retiring 13 of the first 14 batters he faced.

Kosuke Fukudome (2-for-4) slapped the first pitch he saw from Sampson into center field, but Mark DeRosa ended the second inning by grounding into a 6-4-3 double-play.

"It seems like every game we're looking up in the fifth or sixth inning and we've got 2 or 3 hits," said DeRosa, who hit a ninth-inning solo homer off Houston closer Jose Valverde. "It puts a lot of pressure on our pitchers."

So do errors.

After Geovany Soto tied the game at 2-2 with a two-out, two-run single in the seventh, the Cubs' defense gave it all back in the eighth.

With Jon Lieber on the mound -- his first appearance in a Cubs uniform since Aug. 1, 2002 -- a seemingly harmless grounder to second from Lance Berkman uncorked the Astros' 2-run rally.

"I just botched it, period," DeRosa said. "I probably could have stayed back, realized who was running, even though Berkman gets down the line pretty good."

After Carlos Lee flied out, Miguel Tejada sent a screamer down the left-field line, just past Aramis Ramirez. And right past a hard-charging Alfonso Soriano.

The ball caromed off the wall and zipped under his glove as Tejada (2-for-4) coasted to third and Berkman trotted home with the go-ahead run.

"It's an automatic double, so I tried to catch the ball and throw the ball to the cut-off man," Soriano said.

Ty Wigginton's sacrifice fly gave Houston a 4-2 lead.

"There's no panic or anything like that," Hill said. "Tomorrow's another day, and the four games are behind us with the 1 win -- we're going to be fine."

They're hoping Soriano will be, too. After Friday's 0-for-4 effort, the Cubs' leadoff hitter is batting .059 (1-for-17).

"Every day I feel more comfortable and I made very good contact today," he said. "I hope tomorrow I have a hit."

Houston 4, Cubs 3

At the plate: Kosuke Fukudome (6-for-12 in 2008) singled up the middle on the first pitch he saw from Chris Sampson, then singled and scored in the seventh. Geovany Soto was 1-for-4, with the game-tying single in the seventh that pushed home Fukudome and Aramis Ramirez. In his first at-bat as a Cub, Reed Johnson drilled a pinch-hit double off the wall in left-center in the sixth inning.

On the mound: Left-hander Rich Hill struck out four and allowed 2 earned runs in 6 innings, but it was a one of his 3 walks that led to his early departure. A two-out free pass to Mark Loretta in the fourth was followed by a 2-run home run by J.R. Towles that stayed just inside the left-field foul pole. Jon Lieber went 2 innings in relief, striking out one and surrendering 2 unearned runs.

-- Matt Beardmore