Maddux, Cubs fall short against Astros
Outdueled by Oswalt, righty suffers first home loss of season
CHICAGO -- Roy Oswalt, making his first start since coming off the disabled list, outdueled and outhit Greg Maddux to lead the Houston Astros to a 5-4 victory over the frustrated Chicago Cubs.
Maddux (7-6) took the loss, his sixth in his last eight decisions. He served up five runs on 11 hits over seven innings, the most hits off him since the St. Louis Cardinals rapped 12 last Aug. 11 over nine innings.
"He's still throwing the ball well, he's just not locating," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of the 40-year-old pitcher.
"I left some pitches up with two strikes that I tried to throw in the dirt, and threw them up," Maddux said. "It's kind of a tough way to get beat. If they go down and pick it, that's one thing. Just hang pitches like that with two strikes way ahead in the count, there's no excuse for it.
"I didn't execute well. I thought I was throwing good and pitching good, and I didn't execute well. They didn't miss many."
The Astros recorded three hits on an 0-2 count -- Mike Lamb's single in the first, Brad Ausmus' single in the second, and Preston Wilson's RBI single in the fifth. Adam Everett also reached on an error on an 0-2 pitch.
"Greg had trouble putting the ball where he wanted to," Baker said. "He got two strikes on them and couldn't put them away. Early, they got a lot of bloopers and infield checked swings and different things, but we still had action to come back and win that game."
The Cubs did rally in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Tony Womack walked to open the inning against Chad Qualls, reached third on Michael Barrett's single, and scored on Phil Nevin's infield hit to make it 5-4.
But the Cubs fell short, and dropped to 1-4 against the Astros this season. Maddux remained at 13th on the all-time win list; he will tie lefty Eddie Plank for 12th at 326 with his next win.
"What hurt was Oswalt," Baker said. "He got a couple key knocks for them. Oswalt got that double and ends up scoring on that two-out RBI single. His two hits accounted for a couple runs that beat us."
Craig Biggio and Wilson each drove in two runs to back Oswalt (6-3), who had been on the disabled list with a back sprain. The right-hander gave up three runs on eight hits over six innings, and also notched two hits himself, including a double.
"Oswalt is Oswalt, he's a great pitcher," Chicago's Matt Murton said. "I don't care what day it is. He hasn't won all those games by luck. The guy's a good pitcher, you have to battle against him and hopefully get enough runs to win the ballgame."
Lance Berkman reached on an infield single to lead off the Houston second and reached third on Jason Lane's double. Berkman scored when Wilson grounded out, and Ausmus then singled. Lane tallied on Adam Everett's suicide squeeze, and one out later, Biggio hit a RBI single to make it 3-0.
Jacque Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the Chicago second to close the deficit to 3-1. Ronny Cedeno tripled to lead off the third and scored on Maddux's groundout, but Biggio answered with his second RBI single with two out in the Houston fourth.
Aramis Ramirez hit an RBI single in the Cubs' fourth, but the Astros again responded in the fifth with an RBI single by Wilson to go ahead, 5-3.
"Everybody in the lineup has been productive in their careers at some point," Nevin said. "Hitting is a contagious kind of thing. Hopefully, you get a guy or two rolling, and next thing you have three or four guys rolling. That's really all it takes is three or four guys clicking."
Nevin definitely is. He's 5-for-8 in two games, and batting .345 since joining the Cubs.
"He's hitting the ball great -- he's hitting the ball excellent," Baker said. "We got a lot of hits. We just didn't put them across the plate."
Hitting into double plays isn't what Baker has in mind. The Cubs did that three times Wednesday, including two by Murton, and rank 14th in the National League in double plays.
Can the Cubs get out of this funk?
"Absolutely," Maddux said. "You just go out there and play the game right and do it right. I think if you do that, you'll start winning."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.