Cubs' bats go quiet in loss to Astros
Maddux sharp early, picks up third loss
CHICAGO -- Greg Maddux has won at least 15 games an unprecedented 17 consecutive seasons, but he's got his work cut out for him trying to make it 18 years in a row.
Morgan Ensberg hit a tie-breaking home run off Maddux to lift Houston to a 5-1 victory on Wednesday night over the Chicago Cubs for the Astros' third win in 22 games on the road.
"I'm having a hard time believing his record is 2-3," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said of Maddux. "I'm frustrated for him."
Maddux (2-3) took the loss, but was true to form. Seventeen of his 23 outs were groundball outs, and he struck out four. Maddux gave up five runs on eight hits over 7 2/3 innings and did not walk a batter.
"I got hit," Maddux said.
It's that simple, but it isn't.
"He gave up five earned runs, but I have a hard time believing that because of the way he pitched," Barrett said. "That's probably the best stuff he's had [this season]. Going into the game, I really felt good about it. We just couldn't get him any runs. It's frustrating."
It's been a recurring theme for the Cubs this year, who were trying to get back to .500 for the first time since May 1.
"'Can't' and 'don't' are negative words I don't use. We can [score runs]," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We're just not hitting as a team. We get a couple guys hot, but we haven't had three or four guys in the lineup hot at the same time."
Houston starter Brandon Backe had something to do with that. The right-hander, now 4-3, held the Cubs to one run on seven hits over seven-plus innings. He struck out two.
"He kept us off balance, kept us guessing and he was throwing his curveball for strikes," Barrett said. "We couldn't eliminate that pitch. The times we've gotten to Backe, we made him throw his fastball. Today he was throwing everything for strikes and kept us off balance."
Keeping hitters off balance is the same philosophy Maddux uses. You won't see the 39-year-old veteran look for excuses. He'll just get back to work on Thursday.
"You just get ready for [your] next start. That's all you do," Maddux said. "You get ready for it and try to put yourself in position to have success five days later. You break out your pom-pons the next four days."
Last year, Maddux got off to a slow start and was 4-4 through May.
"The last three, four years coming into May, I don't think anybody thought he could pull it off, and he did," Barrett said of Maddux's pursuit of 15 wins.
Maddux said he isn't counting.
"I'm just going to pitch and see what happens," he said. "I'll do what I can to get ready for my next start and go from there."
Backe took it upon himself to make things happen in the third, when he singled, stole second -- his first career theft -- and scored on Orlando Palmeiro's single.
Neifi Perez hit an RBI single in the Cubs' third to tie the game, one of his three hits. But Ensberg gave the Astros a 2-1 lead with his ninth home run to open the fifth.
"He hung that one pitch to Ensberg early, and it was the only bad pitch he made," Baker said of Maddux. "The [eighth inning], they got a couple infield hits, and he had enough. He said he didn't have enough to face [Lance] Berkman."
Todd Self and Berkman each added RBI singles with two outs in the Houston eighth, and another run scored on a wild pitch by reliever Will Ohman.
"He was sharp tonight. He was sharp early," Baker said of Maddux. "It's just difficult when you're not scoring runs."
"The biggest thing is we're not doing it in a timely fashion," Barrett said of the offense, or lack thereof. "We're getting hits here and there. I'm as guilty as anyone. We're just not getting the job done with runners on third and less than two outs.
"We're a good team, [we] work hard and we'll try to get better, and hopefully [we'll] turn things around soon," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.