Carlos Zambrano (14-6) gave up six runs on nine hits for his first loss since August 7. He had won six straight decisions coming in, but allowed two first-inning home runs to give the visiting Astros an early 2-0 lead.
Things only spiraled downward from there, as a rain delay totaling 1 hour and 28 minutes stopped play in the seventh inning. Just before it did, Zambrano allowed an RBI triple to center field when Corey Patterson slipped on the wet surface, allowing a runner to score from second to give the Astros a 5-3 lead. Houston made it 7-3 when play resumed, as left-hander Will Ohman allowed an RBI single and threw a bases-loaded wild pitch.
The Cubs fell to 76-79, nine games back of Houston with seven games to play. In some ways, the game was a small microcosm of the Cubs’ post-season chances this season as the team fell behind early and never could catch up. They showed promise at times, most notably in the form of a Nomar Garciaparra two-run home run onto Waveland Avenue that cut the lead to 4-3 in the sixth before the three-run Houston seventh.
Zambrano lost for only the second time at Wrigley this year and dropped his first at the friendly confines since May 26. He threw 94 pitches one start after tossing 125 against the St. Louis Cardinals last Sunday. Ohman and Todd Wellemeyer finished the game in relief.
The Cubs’ high-water mark this season was six over .500 at 33-27. The low-water mark was seven games under .500, which occurred three separate times. The team was 11-18 in the month of August after picking up help from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the form of Matt Lawton to aid the struggling Cubs outfield. Lawton and OF Todd Hollandsworth were later traded to the contending New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves before Sept. 1.
Only three games remain on the home schedule. The Cubs host the Astros again Sunday beginning at 1:20 p.m. CDT with Jerome Williams (5-9, 4.39 ERA) scheduled to meet Andy Pettitte (17-9, 2.45 ERA). The game can be seen beginning at 1 p.m. on WGN. The Cubs will then host the Pirates for a two-game series starting Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., and will close out the year with a four-game series at Houston beginning Thursday. This is the first year since the 2000 season in which the Cubs have not finished the regular season at Wrigley Field.