Rodriguez can't contain Cubs in finale

Rodriguez can't contain Cubs in finale

CHICAGO -- Wandy Rodriguez was a bit rusty when he took the mound against the Cubs on Sunday, and it showed.

The left-hander had not pitched in more than a week, which apparently gave him time to forget everything that was working for him prior to the All-Star break. Instead of building on the 16 scoreless frames he threw in the first week in July, Rodriguez struggled through his shortest outing of the season during the Astros' 7-6 loss to the Cubs before 41,757 in the finale at Wrigley Field.

The Astros mounted a five-run lead after two frames. That euphoria lasted for about 15 minutes, until the Cubs posted a six-spot off Rodriguez in the second inning that eventually led the Cubs to their first home sweep over Houston in more than 23 years.

The Cubs sent 10 men to the plate in the second. Four knocked base hits and two launched well-timed home runs -- a two-run homer by Angel Pagan and a three-run shot by Derrek Lee.

Rodriguez's main problem centered on his breaking balls, and his struggle to throw them for strikes early in the count. Falling behind forced him to turn to his fastball, and despite what manager Phil Garner viewed as decent location with those pitches, the Cubs pounced.

"Today, he tried to start a few guys with breaking balls," Garner said. "He threw them for balls. He got to where he had to throw the fastball. In that inning, they hit all fastballs. They were in counts where he couldn't afford to get any further down. He had to go with his fastball."

"I tried to throw too hard," Rodriguez said. "I threw a lot of fastballs. I threw inside and I missed. I threw again and again and I kept missing."

Catcher Brad Ausmus sensed that this was going to be a rough outing while Rodriguez was warming up in the bullpen. Rodriguez appeared to be "out of whack mechanically," probably due to the nine-day layoff.

"It was just a matter of them finding some holes with singles and driving the ball into the bleachers with home runs," Ausmus said. "It's a good combination. Certainly, the home runs were well-hit, but there were a couple balls in between that found their way through the infield.

"It wasn't as bad as the numbers look, but certainly it wasn't [Rodriguez's] best outing."

The Cubs' Jason Marquis wasn't having a banner day, either. The Astros came out swinging against the right-hander, posting four runs in the second frame. Mike Lamb led off with a base hit and scored on Luke Scott's double to the gap in right-center, and Ausmus' single up the middle plated the Astros' second run.

Lance Berkman, who drove in the first run with a base hit in the opening frame, doubled to right-center, scoring Chris Burke to give the Astros a 5-0 advantage.

After the Cubs took a 6-5 lead, the Astros tied it again in the third on Lamb's solo homer, but Ryan Theriot knocked a solo homer in the fourth that put the Cubs ahead for good.

The Astros had their chances while facing the Cubs bullpen, but couldn't capitalize. They loaded the bases in the seventh against two Chicago relievers, but after Morgan Ensberg drew a pinch-hit walk off Michael Wuertz, Burke struck out after working the count full.

Wuertz threw all sliders to Burke, who worked his way back from an 0-2 deficit. He swung at what would likely have been a game-tying ball four, but instead, it was an inning-ending strikeout.

"I've had big at-bats off him at least one other time," Burke said. "I knew what I was going to get from him. I knew I was going to get a slider from him. I was up there ready to hit the slider. He made great pitches, got me behind and then got me back to a count where I had a chance.

"Obviously, [in a] 3-2 [count], you're wanting to make sure it's a strike. At the same time, you don't have the luxury of taking anything close. You don't want to get called out there. Walking away, obviously, you're thinking, 'If I would have put the bat on my shoulder, we'd have a tie ballgame.' It's that much more frustrating. But regardless of the pitch, even if it was a strike, striking out, you're never going to be OK with it."

While Garner was not happy that his team did not score past the fourth inning, he was pleased with the overall approach from the offense. After complaining about the absence of hard-hit balls the night before, Garner acknowledged that the team had much better at-bats in his game, even if they didn't have anything to show for it.

"Carlos hit them as hard as you can hit them," Garner said. "Ausmus had another one. All I ask is they hit the ball hard, and we did today."

"That's the frustrating part as a hitter," said Ausmus, who lined out to third in the seventh. "You do everything right at times and you don't get the results you're looking for. Carlos [Lee] and I both hit the ball well, but there's been a third baseman standing there for 140 years. It's unfortunate for us but it's part of the game."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.