CHICAGO (AP) -- One strike from a key victory, the Chicago Cubs
wound up with yet another agonizing defeat that damaged their drive
to the playoffs.
"It hurts big-time," manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday,
sizing up a 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
"It's tough to take, but it is what it is."
Kearns then hit a two-run homer in the 12th as the Reds sent the
Cubs to their fourth loss in five games and shook their wild-card
"The last couple of times out it's like we and Hawk, we've got
-- boy it seems like -- the two-out, two-strike blues," Baker said.
With the loss, the Cubs dropped a half-game behind Houston in
the NL wild-card race. The Astros beat St. Louis 6-4. San
Francisco, which lost to San Diego 4-3 in 10 innings, is tied with
Chicago has four games remaining -- one more with the Reds on
Thursday before concluding the regular season with a three-game
series at Wrigley Field against NL East-champion Atlanta.
"It's frustrating, but you can't dwell on it. You have to come
back tomorrow," said Hawkins, booed as he walked off the field.
With Chicago leading 2-1, Hawkins blew his ninth save in 33
chances and third in the last five appearances.
"I don't think it was a bad pitch," Hawkins said. "I had
thrown two right past him and he missed. He made the adjustment."
Hawkins also gave up a game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth
Saturday at New York in a game the Cubs eventually lost to the Mets
in 11 innings.
"It was Kearns' day. He tied up the game, he won the game, he
saved the game," Baker said.
In an 0-2 hole against the hard-throwing Hawkins, Kearns was
able to regroup.
"I stepped out and just took a deep breath and told myself just
to relax and calm down a little bit and try not to swing so hard,"
The Cubs tried to rally in the 12th against Joe Valentine, who
got his fourth save.
After a leadoff walk, Valentine threw away Nomar Garciaparra's
comebacker for an error, putting runners at the corners with none
out. But Moises Alou grounded into a double play as a run scored
and, after Aramis Ramirez singled, Derrek Lee struck out.
The Cubs left 11 on base.
"It's frustrating because everyone thinks a team like the Reds
shouldn't beat you, especially this time of year," Cubs catcher
Michael Barrett said. "But for whatever reason, they have beaten
us twice now back-to-back. That's a tough bite to swallow."
The Cubs took a 2-1 lead in the seventh on Alou's bases-loaded
Chicago starter Glendon Rusch pitched 6 1-3 innings, allowing
four hits and a run before leaving with the bases loaded in the
Rusch also hit his second major league homer to start the bottom
of the third, tying it at 1.
Luke Hudson gave up just four hits and a run in six innings,
escaping a bases-loaded jam in the third when Kearns made a great
catch of Sosa's drive.
With two outs, Hudson walked Alou and Ramirez before hitting Lee
with a pitch. On a 3-2 delivery, Sosa sent a long drive to
right-center and did his home run hop out of the box, but Kearns
leaped into the ivy and made the catch to end the inning.
"I knew it was going to be close. I didn't know if it was going
to hit the basket or not," Kearns said. "I think it was just
under it. So, I got a little lucky."
Dunn's 45th homer gave the Reds a 1-0 lead in the second.
The Reds loaded the bases in the seventh but were turned away.
The Cubs passed the 3 million mark in attendance for the
first time in franchise history with a crowd of 38,190. ... SS
Barry Larkin, who hasn't started a game since Sept. 18, is
scheduled to play Friday and Sunday against the Pirates in the
Reds' final home series. This is Larkin's 19th season with
Cincinnati and he can become a free agent. He's indicated he'd like
to return for one more, but no decision has been made.