CHICAGO (AP)—No World Series appearance again for the Cubs. This time, not even a spot in the postseason, thanks to a monumental final-week collapse.
A season that started with such high hopes saw them eliminated from playoff contention Saturday by their fifth straight loss, 8-6 to the Atlanta Braves.
“If you told me at the All-Star break we could be going home Oct. 3, I would have told you you were crazy,” outfielder Moises Alou said.
“It hurts so bad because we had such a good team. I thought we would have a longer ride. I’m very disappointed. We’re a lot better than this. Everybody knows there is no way the Cubs should be out.”
But they are after losing seven of eight and squandering the wild-card lead in the last week. Chicago led this game 6-2 before the Braves rallied.
Ahead by 1 1/2 games before a game last Saturday, their slide began when they blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth with two outs and eventually lost to the Mets 4-3 in 11 innings.
“It’s hard to take,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It seems like this last week has been a nightmare week. Whatever you do, it seems like it doesn’t work. One of the worst stretches I’ve been through as a manager in a pennant stretch.”
The NL East champion Braves won the game but starting pitcher John Thomson— scheduled to open Game 2 of the divisional series—left after three innings with what manager Bobby Cox called a pulled side muscle.
“It’s sore. It doesn’t feel like it’s real bad. It should be just a couple of days,” Jones said.
Thomson will be re-evaluated Sunday and his playoff start is up in the air.
“It’s a real problem for any athlete in a baseball uniform,” Cox said. “But it may be mild enough where he might be available when his turn comes. He’s a question mark right now.”
Chicago began the day two games behind Houston and San Francisco, knowing it had to win and get plenty of help.
J.D. Drew’s eighth-inning triple got Atlanta the lead for good.
Zambrano tossed his cap into the stands after being pulled in the sixth inning, the victim of some shaky fielding when center fielder Jose Macias—a reserve who got a start—lost a ball in the sun.
“I was mad at myself,” Zambrano said. “This is sad, to not be in the playoffs.”
The Braves got a small measure of revenge in knocking the Cubs out of postseason contention. Last October, Chicago beat Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.
Last year, the Cubs were in great position to make the World Series for the first time since 1945, and possibly win their first title since 1908.
But Mark Prior could not hold a three-run lead in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NL championship series against Florida—the game where fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball—and Kerry Wood blew a 5-3 edge in Game 7.
“We were close last year and I felt we had a better team this year than last,” Alou said. “I thought we had a team to go all the way.”
The Braves trailed 6-5 when Julio Franco had a pinch-hit single to open the eighth and Marcus Giles blooped a single to right. Mike Remlinger relieved Kyle Farnsworth (4-5) and Drew drove the triple to right-center field. Wilson Betemit made it 8-6 with a sacrifice fly.
The Cubs put a runner on base in the ninth, but Smoltz struck out Nomar Garciaparra and Alou to end it.
Sosa moved into sole possession of seventh place on the career homer list with his 574th—35th of the season—in the fourth against Juan Cruz.
Braves coach Pat Corrales was ejected in the fifth for arguing after Estrada was called out. … Macias got the start in center because Corey Patterson was in a 9-for-56 slump. Patterson entered the game in the seventh.