I guess I should have known – these are the Cubs, after all – that when Mark DeRosa couldn't find first base in the bottom of the first, there was more to come. DeRosa was trying to beat the throw from second to break up a double play. The throw from second was wide, drawing Albert Pujols off the base; DeRosa avoided the tag, but then missed first base. Pujols ran over and put the tag on DeRosa to end the inning.
The game moved smoothly through six. Ted Lilly was impressive again, keeping the Cards scoreless – until the seventh. Lilly's only mistakes on the day were a seventh inning walk to Jim Edmonds (he should have been an easy out) and a home run to Preston Wilson two pitches later. Even so, it was an excellent outing (7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER), and Lilly deserved to get a win.
But the Cubs' offense remains inept. They had several genuine scoring opportunities, but couldn't score more than a run. Take the first inning, as mentioned above. With one run already in and runners on first and second with one out, DeRosa couldn't get the job done, instead grounding into his odd double play. DeRosa squashed any hopes of a score in the fourth, too, with another double play groundout.
And then there was the seventh. Henry Blanco stepped up to the plate, runners on first and second and nobody out, with one objective: Get a bunt down, and advance the runners. Instead, he popped up a bunt attempt, prompting one of the oddest plays I've seen in a while.
The ball was popped about five feet up in the air, and roughly a few steps ahead of home plate. Blanco hardly moved, but Cards catcher Yadier Molina jumped at the ball, and Blanco happened to be in the way. Molina gave Blanco what looked to be a bear hug as he reached for the ball. I couldn't tell from my seat if the ball was caught, though ultimately it didn't matter. Molina grabbed the ball, threw to second to force out Jones, the runner at first. Then the ball went to third, where DeRosa was tagged out on his way to the base from second, and then back to first, for the force on Blanco.
The umps initially ruled it a triple play, and I'll admit, I was very confused. Piniella came charging out of the dugout, trying to figure out what happened. The umps conferred and decided Blanco was out on batter's interference and the play dead. The runners were returned to first and second, only one out recorded. Still a solid scoring opportunity. But Cesar Izturis struck out, as did pinch hitter Daryl Ward, and the inning was over, with the Cubs still down a run.
The Cubs and Cards traded zeros in the eighth, and Bob Howry and Neil Cotts combined for a scoreless ninth. The Cubs' situation entering the bottom of the ninth could have been worse, though. Leading off the top of the inning, Edmonds lifted a ball down the left field line, and Cliff Floyd made an ill-fated diving attempt at it. Edmonds ended up at third, with none out. But Howry and Cotts did their jobs, and the Cubs were still down just one run.
After Aramis Ramirez flied out leading off the inning, Mark DeRosa singled, then was removed for pinch runner Ronny Cedeno (Note to Lou: BAD IDEA). With a three ball count on the next batter, Jacque Jones, Cedeno took off for second. The pitch was a ball, giving Cedeno the base, but Ronny paid no attention. He overslid the bag and was tagged out, leaving the Cubs' momentum clearly destroyed. Lou argued the call, and the crowd wanted to see a tantrum, but nothing came of it. At this point, fans in the bleachers began, unfortunately, showering the outfield with trash, and cries of "Bull----" filled the stadium. Matt Murton popped out on the first pitch he saw, and the game was over. In all, a deflating and bizarre loss.
(I was going to take some pictures, and this would have been a great game for them, but I forgot the camera at home. I'm still kicking myself.)