Reds 4, Cubs 3, 12 innings

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CHICAGO (AP)—One strike from a key victory, the Chicago Cubs wound up with yet another agonizing defeat that damaged their drive to the playoffs.

“It hurts big-time,” manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday, sizing up a 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

“It’s tough to take, but it is what it is.”

Austin Kearns tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth inning on an 0-2 pitch from closer LaTroy Hawkins.

Kearns then hit a two-run homer in the 12th as the Reds sent the Cubs to their fourth loss in five games and shook their wild-card hopes.

“The last couple of times out it’s like we and Hawk, we’ve got—boy it seems like—the two-out, two-strike blues,” Baker said.

With the loss, the Cubs dropped a half-game behind Houston in the NL wild-card race. The Astros beat St. Louis 6-4. San Francisco, which lost to San Diego 4-3 in 10 innings, is tied with Chicago.

Chicago has four games remaining—one more with the Reds on Thursday before concluding the regular season with a three-game series at Wrigley Field against NL East-champion Atlanta.

“It’s frustrating, but you can’t dwell on it. You have to come back tomorrow,” said Hawkins, booed as he walked off the field.

With Chicago leading 2-1, Hawkins blew his ninth save in 33 chances and third in the last five appearances.

After retiring Sean Casey and Adam Dunn, he gave up a two-out triple to D’Angelo Jimenez before Kearns followed with a double off the wall in left-center.

“I don’t think it was a bad pitch,” Hawkins said. “I had thrown two right past him and he missed. He made the adjustment.”

Hawkins also gave up a game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth Saturday at New York in a game the Cubs eventually lost to the Mets in 11 innings.

Kearns, who also made a great catch in right to rob Sammy Sosa of extra bases, hit a two-run homer off Jon Leicester (5-1) after a walk to Jimenez.

“It was Kearns’ day. He tied up the game, he won the game, he saved the game,” Baker said.

In an 0-2 hole against the hard-throwing Hawkins, Kearns was able to regroup.

“I stepped out and just took a deep breath and told myself just to relax and calm down a little bit and try not to swing so hard,” Kearns said.

John Riedling (5-3), who retired Ben Grieve on a comebacker with Sosa at third in the 11th, got the win.

The Cubs tried to rally in the 12th against Joe Valentine, who got his fourth save.

After a leadoff walk, Valentine threw away Nomar Garciaparra’s comebacker for an error, putting runners at the corners with none out. But Moises Alou grounded into a double play as a run scored and, after Aramis Ramirez singled, Derrek Lee struck out.

The Cubs left 11 on base.

“It’s frustrating because everyone thinks a team like the Reds shouldn’t beat you, especially this time of year,” Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. “But for whatever reason, they have beaten us twice now back-to-back. That’s a tough bite to swallow.”

The Cubs took a 2-1 lead in the seventh on Alou’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

Chicago starter Glendon Rusch pitched 6 1-3 innings, allowing four hits and a run before leaving with the bases loaded in the seventh.

Rusch also hit his second major league homer to start the bottom of the third, tying it at 1.

Luke Hudson gave up just four hits and a run in six innings, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the third when Kearns made a great catch of Sosa’s drive.

With two outs, Hudson walked Alou and Ramirez before hitting Lee with a pitch. On a 3-2 delivery, Sosa sent a long drive to right-center and did his home run hop out of the box, but Kearns leaped into the ivy and made the catch to end the inning.

“I knew it was going to be close. I didn’t know if it was going to hit the basket or not,” Kearns said. “I think it was just under it. So, I got a little lucky.”

Dunn’s 45th homer gave the Reds a 1-0 lead in the second.

The Reds loaded the bases in the seventh but were turned away.

Casey singled leading off, Jimenez singled and Kearns walked. Ryan Dempster relieved Rusch and struck out Jason LaRue before Mike Remlinger came on to throw a third strike past Darren Bragg.

Notes

The Cubs passed the 3 million mark in attendance for the first time in franchise history with a crowd of 38,190. … SS Barry Larkin, who hasn’t started a game since Sept. 18, is scheduled to play Friday and Sunday against the Pirates in the Reds’ final home series. This is Larkin’s 19th season with Cincinnati and he can become a free agent. He’s indicated he’d like to return for one more, but no decision has been made.

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