Cubs drop out of NL Central lead with 5-4, 11-inning loss at Houston

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HOUSTON (AP)—The Chicago Cubs know they can’t waste too many more chances like this.

Luke Scott tripled home the winning run in the 11th inning and the Houston Astros dropped the Cubs out of a tie for the NL Central lead, beating Chicago 5-4 Tuesday night.

Chicago blew a 4-1 lead, stranded 15 runners and squandered a bases-loaded threat in the 11th. The Cubs have lost four of six and fell one game behind Milwaukee, which beat Pittsburgh 6-1.

“We had some opportunities and didn’t get it done,” Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. “That’s a tough one to swallow.”

The Astros ended a five-game losing streak and won for the fifth time in 13 games since Cecil Cooper replaced Phil Garner as manager on Aug. 27.

“We continue to play hard, that’s all you can ask,” Cooper said.

Ryan Dempster (2-6) walked Mark Loretta with one out in the 11th and Eric Bruntlett pinch-ran. Scott followed with his game-winner.

“I made a stupid pitch,” Dempster said, without waiting for reporters to ask him a question. “I walked a guy, made a stupid pitch and lost the game.”

With that, Dempster finished buttoning his shirt and left the clubhouse.

Brad Lidge (4-2) escaped a jam of his own in the 11th by getting Jacque Jones to fly out.

Unless they win the rest of their games, the Astros will finish with a losing record for just the second time since 1991.

“Any time you can win a game in extra innings, it’s good, no matter where you are,” Scott said. “We want to finish strong. We haven’t lived up to expectations and we know it.”

Mark DeRosa hit a three-run homer for the Cubs, who dropped to 2-8 in extra-inning games this season. Chicago has lost seven of 13 meetings with Houston.

“We’re still in it,” Lee said. “You’ve got to turn the page, come back and try to get them tomorrow.”

The Cubs put two runners on with one out in both the eighth and ninth innings. Carlos Lee made a diving catch in left-center on Ryan Theriot’s liner to end the first threat and DeRosa grounded into a double play to stall the second.

“We had some chances, we left some runners out there,” Derrek Lee said. “They made some great defensive plays. We just didn’t get it done.”

Chicago reliever Bob Howry retired the six batters he faced in the eighth and ninth—striking out four—to force extra innings. Chicago’s bullpen retired 13 straight Astros before Loretta walked in the 11th.

“These are big games for us,” Howry said. “You’d love to be out and have a five- or seven-game lead and have a little leeway. We don’t, but we’ve got guys who know what it takes to win. Now, we’ve just got to come out and do it.”

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the second when Jones singled and scored on Jason Kendall’s double.

Scott singled in the second and moved up on a grounder and Jason Marquis’ wild pitch. When another pitch skipped past Kendall—this one was ruled a passed ball—Scott scored to tie the game.

Houston starter Brandon Backe walked Cliff Floyd leading off the third, Aramis Ramirez singled and DeRosa hit his ninth homer of the season.

Backe, making his second start since a yearlong recovery from Tommy John surgery, retired the Cubs in order for the first time in the fifth inning. Humberto Quintero doubled in the Houston fifth, Jason Lane pinch-hit for Backe and singled, then lined a two-run triple to cut Chicago’s lead to 4-3.

Carlos Lee led off the sixth with a single and Loretta hit a tying double.

Notes

Craig Biggio hit his 666th double in the first inning, passing George Brett and moving into fifth place all-time. Biggio has more doubles than any right-handed hitter in history. … Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs left fielder, dropped Biggio’s routine fly with one out in the third inning. He recovered in time to throw to second and force out Pence. … Pence set a Houston rookie record with his 51st extra-base hit of the season. … The Cubs have lost four in a row at Minute Maid Park for the first time since the ballpark opened in 2000.

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