The Chicago Cubs’ inability to win close games already is costing them in the NL Central standings.
The last-place Cubs (7-12) fell to 0-3 in extra-inning games and 0-5 in one-run games this season following their 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Brewers on Monday. Staff ace Carlos Zambrano allowed only two runs, but Chicago’s bullpen squandered a two-run, eighth-inning lead before the Cubs fell to 3-8 at home.
Chicago already is five games behind first-place Milwaukee.
Manager Lou Piniella declined to speak to reporters after the game, but reliever Scott Eyre took responsibility for the loss.
“I made us play about six extra innings and use guys that didn’t need to pitch tonight,” said Eyre, who has a 15.00 ERA. “I’m having a tough time with everybody. If I make a mistake, I get hit.”
With Zambrano yet to show the 2006 form that led to 16 wins, Hill (3-0, 0.41 ERA) has been the team’s best pitcher so far. The left-hander extended his scoreless streak to 16 innings on Thursday, scattering four hits and three walks in eight innings of Chicago’s 3-0 victory at Atlanta.
“If you say that one of your main goals is to have 200 innings, everything else should take care of itself,” Hill said. “The thing I focus on is going out there and making that one pitch. You’re aggressive and you throw with conviction. I can’t stress that enough.”
Hill notched one of his wins at Miller Park on April 6, limiting the Brewers to one run and one hit - a solo homer by Corey Hart - in seven innings of a 9-3 victory. He is 1-0 with a 1.47 ERA in three lifetime appearances versus Milwaukee, and 5-3 with a 2.96 ERA in 13 starts at Wrigley Field.
Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder looms as a big obstacle for Hill in getting the Cubs back on track. Fielder hit a pair of homers Monday - a game-tying solo shot in the eighth and a go-ahead one in the 12th.
Fielder has four multihomer games in his short career, and three have come at Wrigley Field. He is 11-for-40 (.275) with six homers and eight RBIs in 11 lifetime games at Chicago.
“I like playing here,” Fielder said. “I like the stadium and everything. It’s just fun here because the crowd is always on you, plus this is kind of our rival team.”
While Chicago’s bullpen faltered, Milwaukee’s relievers pitched eight scoreless innings. Carlos Villanueva tossed four innings for the win and set-up man Derrick Turnbow pitched the 12th for his first save since July 29.
Jeff Suppan (2-2, 3.91) will try to give the Brewers bullpen a chance to regroup as he seeks a third consecutive win. The right-hander allowed three runs and six hits in six innings of Milwaukee’s 7-5 victory against Pittsburgh on Thursday, evening his record after an 0-2 start.
Suppan, who signed a $42 million contract in the offseason with the Brewers, went 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA in three starts with St. Louis against the Cubs in 2006. He is 2-2 with a 4.25 ERA in six lifetime starts at Wrigley Field, and 4-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 13 appearances overall versus Chicago.
Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who hit his 200th career homer Monday, is 7-for-24 with a homer and six RBIs lifetime versus Suppan.
The Brewers (12-7) are trying to climb six games over .500 for the first time since they were 41-35 on July 2, 2004.