Pettitte, facing a lineup without slugger Derrek Lee, allowed three hits and a walk in the first frame but escaped allowing only one run. It wasn't long before his luck would run out while pitching to the middle of the Cubs order. In the third, he yielded back-to-back home runs to Michael Barrett and Aramis Ramirez, putting Chicago ahead, 3-0.
In the fifth, Pettitte uncharacteristically issued a bases-loaded walk to Matt Murton, his third free pass of the frame. Later, Pettitte acknowledged he was thinking too much during that sequence.
"I got a little too tentative," he said. "Going against Carlos, and the way he's pitching against us ... that one inning when I walked [Murton], instead of making a pitch, I was too concerned with not letting them score or try to score. When you don't feel comfortable mechanically and the ball's not going where you want it to, it's a tough day. I felt like I might have added to that a little bit with my mental mindset out there."
Pettitte's dilemma is similar to that of Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens, all in their second year of pitching without much help from the offense. The burden is undoubtedly starting to take its toll. Oswalt is more vocal about the lack of run support, while Pettitte takes a more laid-back approach.
"Our team is what it is," he said, asked if he feels like he must be perfect every time out. "I really haven't been doing that no matter what my situation is. I'm concentrating on making pitches. I may have gotten a little caught up with it today because I knew the way Carlos was throwing the ball, and we were already down three.
"I tried to talk about that with Roy. I know he might have a hard time with that. But you can't control [run support]. We've got to go out there, make pitches, make quality pitches, and give our guys a chance to get back in the dugout and try to score some runs. That's the mindset we've got to have."
In that respect, Pettitte certainly didn't knock his team out of the game. He did, however, exit after five innings, lifted for a pinch-hitter when it was obvious Zambrano was going to be as tough as he always is against this Houston club.
"It's a shame we can't give him more time in the game," manager Phil Garner said. "But we had to try to do everything we can to get as much offense as we can."
"It's sort of a misnomer to say that this team's struggling so you ought to be able to come into their place and beat them. ... Anybody can beat you, and you can beat anybody."
-- Lance Berkman
As it turned out, it wasn't much. Zambrano, buoyed by a generously wide strike zone at the most opportune times, struck out 10 and allowed just two hits during his eight innings of work.
Even Garner, usually diplomatic to a fault when prodded about the umpiring, struggled to be objective about some of the called third strikes.
"Ours came at pretty tough times," Garner said.
In all, four of Zambrano's strikeouts were on called third strikes.
"It certainly doesn't help anything, when [Zambrano's] getting the calls, and he's tough enough as it is," said Lance Berkman, who struck out looking to end the fourth. "When he's throwing tough pitches and he's getting the calls, that makes it tough."
Even tougher to swallow is the fact that the Astros have yet to meet their toughest competition of this three-city trip. They undoubtedly had higher expectations than splitting with the young Marlins and losing two of three to the fifth-place Cubs.
Now they're off to New York, where they will meet the Mets -- a team far superior to the Astros' first two opponents, as evidenced by their 57-38 record that has made a mockery of the phrase "division race" in the NL East.
Ask the players, however, and they insist they approach every team with the same attitude.
"It's sort of a misnomer to say that this team's struggling so you ought to be able to come into their place and beat them," Berkman said. "Especially when they've got a 300-game winner going (Greg Maddux) and Carlos Zambrano going and a kid that's got really good stuff the first night (Carlos Marmol). Anybody can beat you, and you can beat anybody."
"We played the Royals," Pettitte said. "They came in and took two out of three. These are big-league teams. If you don't pitch well and you don't swing the bat well, if you don't hit with guys in scoring position, you don't do the little things, you don't get guys in from third and less than one out, you're going to have problems winning ballgames. We are just not clicking at all on any cylinders. Hopefully, we can get going."