Cubs' comeback comes up short
Starter Hill struggles with command, pulled after six batters
ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs' game Friday night may have gone 11 innings, but it was actually decided in the St. Louis first.
Starter Rich Hill had to be pulled after walking four of the six batters he faced, forcing Lou Piniella to call on his entire bullpen -- and even send Sunday's starter Jason Marquis out in emergency. The Cubs did overcome a 3-1 deficit when Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer in the ninth off Jason Isringhausen, but Skip Schumaker smashed a walkoff, two-run homer in the 11th inning off Chad Fox to lift the Cardinals to a 5-3 win. More on Soriano's day later.
"The only reason we lost that game," Hill said, "was my inability to throw strikes. The best way to get over it is to move on, and that's it."
The Cubs had given the left-hander time off between starts to get him back on track but he took a giant step backwards and is in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation. Piniella hinted after the game that Sean Marshall could take Hill's place. Scott Eyre, rehabbing his left elbow, is close to being ready and could step into the 'pen.
Making his first start since April 23, Hill struck out the first batter he faced, then walked four of the next five to force in a run before he was pulled. The left-hander threw 27 pitches, 10 for strikes, in the shortest outing of his career and briefest by a Cubs starter since Ted Lilly was ejected after two-thirds of an inning last June 10 in Atlanta.
"It's embarrassing to go out there and throw the ball that way, and know that you're far better than that and a far better pitcher than that," said Hill, who felt good in the bullpen but just "lost it" in the game.
Before Lilly, the last Chicago pitcher to be unable to get out of the first was Steve Smyth, who gave up six runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning Aug. 22, 2002, at Houston.
"Hill can't start like this in the big leagues -- c'mon," Piniella said. "Every time he pitches, it's an adventure. He's doing his best, but we have no bullpen. I don't know what the solution is, but I can't start him any more until this thing gets taken care of."
The Cardinals had taken a 2-0 lead in the second on Brendan Ryan's RBI single, but the Cubs answered in the third. Geovany Soto doubled to lead off, and one out later, moved up on pitcher Carlos Zambrano's pinch-hit single. Soto then scored on Soriano's fielder's choice. It was the first pinch-hit by Zambrano in nine career at-bats, and first by a Cubs pitcher since Joe Borowski did so Aug. 10, 2002, at Colorado.
In the St. Louis seventh, Rick Ankiel was safe on an error by Derrek Lee, and Albert Pujols blooped a single between Soriano and Ryan Theriot in shallow left. Two outs later, Yadier Molina lofted a ball to left that Soriano swiped at, but it bounced on the warning track and into the stands for a ground-rule double. Ankiel scored on the hit for a 3-1 lead.
"I've got no explanation for the left-field plays, I really don't," Piniella said.
"I think I have to work a little bit more, because I had a couple bad jumps on the ball," Soriano said. "The first one, I think I could catch that ball that Pujols hit. The other one [that Molina hit], I had a very bad jump. I didn't know that ball would go that far. I have to work on my jump.
"Those aren't routine," Soriano said, "but I can make those plays. I had a couple bad games, but it's part of the game. I know myself I can be better."
Fox (0-1) thought his career was over in April 2005 because of problems with his right elbow, but was called up earlier in the day. Pinch-hitter Aaron Miles singled to lead off the Cardinals' 11th, and one batter later, Schumaker launched the first pitch from Fox to right for the game-winner.
"I told myself when I got there, I had to be aggressive," Fox said. "You hang it, they beat you. I didn't do my job.
"This is not the way I wanted to come back, but what am I going to do, give up now?" Fox said. "It's a joy to be back out there. It's a joy to be back in that situation where the game's on the line. That's what I've worked hard for."
The Cubs will have to wait and see whether Aramis Ramirez is available on Saturday. He had to leave the game after being hit on the wrist by a pitch in the sixth.
"It's pretty swollen right now," Ramirez said. "We have a day game [Saturday], and that doesn't help."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.