WASHINGTON -- If ever a game fell into the "deserved to lose" category for the Cubs, it was Friday night's 5-3 loss to the Washington Nationals.
Never mind, for a moment, reliever Bob Howry giving up a game-winning, 2-run homer in the ninth inning to backup catcher Wil Nieves for Nieves' first career home run.
Well before that the Cubs had many chances to blow out the pesky Nats but couldn't do it.
"This is a couple games in a row where we've had opportunities, and we haven't taken advantage of them," said manager Lou Piniella, whose team is 15-8 and has lost two straight. "A backup catcher got a hold of a high fastball, and that was that."
The Cubs wasted a 7-inning pitching performance by starter Ryan Dempster who righted himself after giving up a 2-run homer in the first to Nick Johnson.
The offense left 10 runners stranded and ran itself out of a couple of innings.
Shortstop Ryan Theriot was caught trying to steal third base in the third after doubling home Reed Johnson with one out. Derrek Lee walked, and Aramis Ramirez singled, but the Cubs came away with nothing.
Both Piniella and Theriot stood by the play.
"He's fine with that," said the manager. "He picked a good pitch to run on. It was a changeup. He just got thrown out."
In the seventh, with the Cubs down 3-2, Theriot singled with one out and was caught trying to steal second as Lee was called out on strikes.
"I got the green light on both of them," said Theriot, who is 5-for-10 in steal attempts. "The last one was a no-brainer. You've got to go right there. The first one, I saw changeup. I saw the grip, and I was going."
Piniella went through his bench in the eighth as the Cubs tied the game on pinch hitter Matt Murton's bases-loaded walk with one out. Murton was pinch hitting for Daryle Ward, who was pinch hitting for Ronny Cedeno.
After that, Piniella sent Henry Blanco up to bat for Dempster. When the Nationals countered with righty Saul Rivera, Piniella turned to Mike Fontenot, who struck out. Reed Johnson ended the inning with a groundout.
"We expect Fontenot to put the ball in play," Piniella said. "What are they (bench players) there for, to keep them for 14 innings? Try to get the game over in the eighth inning. We had every chance in the world to do it. We just didn't get it done."
The defensive play of the game was turned in by Johnson in center field. Felipe Lopez hit a ball toward the gap in left-center. Johnson raced after it, dived and caught the ball before hitting the padding on the outfield wall.
"Unbelievable," Theriot said. "It was the best play I've ever seen in person, maybe, the best play ever."
It all became moot in the ninth, when Austin Kearns led off with a sharp single to center on Howry's first pitch. After Willie Harris struck out, Nieves reached out and hit an opposite-field homer to right.
"It's a bad pitch," Howry said. "You don't want to go up and away from a guy because all he's got to do is get his arms extended. I tried to come up, and I wanted to be up and in."
Nationals 5, Cubs 3
At the plate: Ryan Theriot singled, doubled and walked but also was caught stealing twice. Aramis Ramirez singled twice and walked. Kosuke Fukudome singled and doubled.
On the mound: Reliever Bob Howry gave up the game winner, a 2-run homer in the ninth to Wil Nieves. Starter Ryan Dempster worked 7 innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 runs, 2 earned. He threw 108 pitches, 62 for strikes.
-- Bruce Miles