Astros fall in 18th inning vs. Cubs

Astros fall in 18th inning vs. Cubs

HOUSTON -- Finally, after manager Phil Garner emptied out his bullpen and cleared his bench, after two renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and long after the clock struck midnight, the Astros lost a heartbreaker to the Cubs, 8-6, at Minute Maid Park in the 18th inning on Tuesday night.

Well, come to think of it, Wednesday morning had already arrived here. And that's when closer Brad Lidge lost his job.

"I just told [Lidge] that we're going to take him out of the closer's role, we're going to work by committee," Garner said afterward. "He may close some games in certain situations. We may use him in the seventh and eighth innings, as well, but we'll use everybody to close ballgames out here for a while."

Lidge couldn't close this one in the ninth with a 6-5 lead in hand. He actually jumped out in front of pinch-hitter Matt Murton, the first batter he faced, 0-2.

Lidge couldn't finish him, though, as Murton lined a fastball into the Crawford Boxes to tie the game.

"It came back over the plate a little too much," Lidge said of the pitch. "Obviously, we didn't think he would hit that pitch at the time, but it could've been better."

Several of Lidge's fastballs and sliders could have been a hair better this season, as he's been pounded this season like no other.

Over his last 20 appearances, Lidge has surrendered 15 runs on 18 hits and nine walks. He actually had converted five consecutive saves before this blown opportunity, his first since July 8. It was also his fifth blown save this season.

"It's kind of been weird," Lidge said. "I don't feel like my approach has been that much different this year. I feel like my control hasn't been quite as good, but I'm just not getting the results."

After the homer to Murton, he still wasn't getting good results. Lidge gave up singles to Cesar Izturis and Aramis Ramirez before Garner pulled him midway through the ninth.

Trever Miller relieved and escaped the jam Lidge had created, and relievers Russ Springer, Fernando Nieve and Dave Borkowski followed with a combined eight scoreless innings until the 18th.

That inning, Borkowski allowed Ramirez and Jacque Jones to score on Murton's two-run single through a hole at second.

"He had the game," Garner said of Borkowski. "If it goes 25 innings, he's pitching. He's our last guy. He did a super job. He did an absolutely super job. He did not lose that game tonight. It will have a loss on his name, but he didn't lose it."

That's for sure. Borkowski pitched a season-high six innings and gave up just the two runs on four hits and a walk. Five of those innings were scoreless, and he gave the Astros chances to take this game in the bottom half of several innings.

It just didn't happen for the Astros, who left 15 runners on, including 11 over the final nine innings. And they fell five games below .500 with their fourth straight loss and remain four games behind the Wild Card-leading Reds.

"We normally win 18-inning ballgames here," said Garner, referring to Game 5 of last season's Division Series against the Braves. "It's disappointing. We played hard, my goodness, [with] great pitching performances. I'll tell you, it's a tough game to lose, but it's one loss and let's not turn it into anything more."

Yet how many games has Lidge lost now? He's only 0-3, but considering those five blown saves and a handful of non-save situations he hasn't handled, Garner really had no other choice but to change Lidge's role.

Lidge, at least, understands why Garner made the change.

"It's been frustrating," Lidge said. "I just haven't gotten the results I've wanted. I feel good, I feel confident. Sometimes, I'm throwing pitches where I want, and sometimes I'm throwing bad pitches.

"The biggest thing for me is I'm just going to work as hard as I can and hopefully get some good results and help our team win in any way possible."

Now, he'll be pitching either the seventh, eighth or maybe even a few ninth innings.

"Closer-by-committee means that I'm assuming I'll be part of that committee," Lidge said.

Kevin Yanik is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.