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HOU@CHC: Gonzalez robs Vitters again with tough grab

CHICAGO -- It was a struggle for Armando Galarraga to convince himself to be satisfied with Monday night's performance at Wrigley Field, because there's not a starting pitcher around who would pat himself on the back after giving up five runs in five innings.

Galarraga was certainly disappointed in the 7-1 loss to the Cubs, but he was more than willing to concede that his fourth start with the Astros -- from the way he attacked the strike zone to his tempo and overall mechanics -- was certainly a step in the right direction.

After walking 13 batters in 10 1/3 innings in his previous two starts, Galarraga walked only a pair, but he was hurt by a pair of two-run homers. Darwin Barney took him deep in the second inning, and Alfonso Soriano tagged him in the fifth to give the Cubs their fourth consecutive win over the Astros.

"I thought my mechanics were way better," Galarraga said. "I think I got better. Maybe that doesn't sound right because I [allowed] so many runs and I can't be happy with this start, but I feel my mechanics were way better [than] my last two starts."

Manager Brad Mills and pitching Doug Brocail had stressed for Galarraga to work at a quicker pace than he had, and it appeared to help him be more aggressive in the strike zone. He threw 48 of his 78 pitches for strikes.

"There's no doubt he needed to throw more strikes and work quicker," Mills said. "His stuff is good enough. The thing that happened is when he got ahead of hitters, [he needed to] make some better pitches. I know you think I'm talking out both sides of my mouth, but you have to be able to make those pitches when you're ahead in the count, and that kind of got him in trouble."

Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija (8-10) tied a career high by striking out 11 batters while holding the Astros to four hits and one run in seven innings. He struck out five consecutive batters at one point, whiffing the side in the fourth inning.

"Obviously, that [splitter] showed up tonight," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It was pretty devastating, as well as his velocity, and everything was pretty good. He had his back-door slider, [he was] able to get back in counts. Everything was working tonight."

The Astros were trailing, 5-0, when Brandon Barnes hit a pinch-hit homer in the sixth -- the first home run of his career. Barnes, who was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday after beginning the season in Double-A, was able to retrieve the ball after Cubs fans customarily threw it back onto the field.

"It was amazing," Barnes said. "Not many words I can say, but it was really cool. I was trying to go in there and have a good at-bat and get a pitch I could drive, and it happened."

Barnes' homer was one of only four hits -- and the only extra-base hit -- for the Astros.

"[Samardzija] is one of those guys [who] when he's on, it's tough, especially a guy who throws up to 96, 97 [mph]," shortstop Tyler Greene said. "The pitch for him is the splitter. That's a tough pitch to hit when he's on with it, and he's going to give anyone a challenge. You have to tip your cap to him when he's able to locate and keep that splitter down like that."

Galarraga (0-3) allowed a leadoff single to Starlin Castro in the second, and Castro was at third base with two outs when Barney connected with his homer. Soriano followed a one-out single by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth for his 361st career homer, which ties him with Joe DiMaggio on baseball's all-time list.

"I gave up two home runs, and it cost me the game," Galarraga said. "Other than that, I think, believe it or not, it was a better start than the last couple. I threw more strikes, threw everything around the zone. I just missed those two. Soriano ... got me on a slider. I threw for a strike, and he got me on that. The one that hurt was the first one, because it was a bad pitch."

Galarraga had two strikes on Castro and allowed him to reach before getting the next two batters. Had he been able to finish Castro, Barney might never have had a chance to hit in that inning, and a different tone may have been set.

"The big thing in the second inning was the inability to make some pitches," Mills said. "We had Castro 0-2 and he singled to start that rally and enabled him to be on when Barney hit the two-run homer. The second home run by Soriano put us in a hole."

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