Big seventh sinks Astros vs. Cubs

Big seventh sinks Astros vs. Cubs

CHICAGO -- When a staff ace faces his opponent's fifth starter and is handed an early lead, odds are usually in the favor of the team who sent its best pitcher to the mound that day.

That's why Roy Oswalt chose to shoulder the blame for the Astros' 9-7 loss to the Cubs on Saturday. He allowed 10 hits, did not strike out a batter throughout his 6 2/3 innings of work and labeled his inability to hold a three-run advantage as "embarrassing."

He was also disgusted that he gave up four hits to Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee.

"I always had problems with him," Oswalt said. "I got him out early in my career, but lately it seems like he knows what's coming."

The beginning of the 2008 season has been a frustrating one for Oswalt, who isn't used to early-season struggles. In two starts, he's allowed eight earned runs and a whopping 21 hits. He said he is physically fine, even if he did feel a temporary twinge in his right bicep in the sixth inning. This time, he said, he simply "just didn't have it."

Oswalt's slider was working well enough, but his signature pitch, the curveball, eluded him for a second straight outing. He also couldn't shake the pesky Lee, who knocked a single in the first inning, a solo homer in the third, a double in the sixth and a base hit in the seventh.

That last at-bat was probably the most frustrating for Oswalt, considering it was barely a hittable pitch.

"I threw the ball up and in," Oswalt said. "If he hadn't swung, it was either going to hit him or it was going to be a ball. Somehow, he got the head of the bat on it."

Said manager Cecil Cooper: "The last time, I thought we had a chance to get [Lee]. [Oswalt] made a pretty good pitch down, but there again, he put a good swing on a pretty good pitch."

Lee's final hit contributed to the Cubs' five-run seventh frame, during which the home team batted around and faced four Houston pitchers, each of whom allowed at least one baserunner.

One day after Wesley Wright logged his first big league win, he ran into his first road block, yielding a costly double to Kosuke Fukudome that broke a 5-5 tie. The Cubs right fielder lined a straight shot to left, where Carlos Lee tried to make an awkward grab just before the ball bounced. Instead, it skipped past the left fielder, giving Fukudome the easy double.

Cooper commended Wright for consistently throwing strikes, noting a couple of borderline pitches that went in Fukudome's favor.

"He had a couple pitches we thought might have caught the corner, but we didn't get the call on him," Cooper said. "It put [Wright] kind of in a hole, 3-1. He had to go after [Fukudome]. He made some pitches. The guy had a great at-bat. [Fukudome] just fought and fought.

"In Fukudome's case, he's not a kid. He's a veteran player. I thought the kid [Wright] went right after him and showed me something."

Cooper expressed that sentiment to the rookie left-hander while waiting for Geoff Geary to jog in from the bullpen.

"I just mentioned to him that he did exactly what we wanted him to do -- get the ball and throw strikes," Cooper said.

"It was a battle," Wright said. "I felt I made some good pitches, borderline pitches that I fell behind, 3-1. I just tried to come back and get back into the count. Got to 3-2 and he fouled some pitches off. I tried to go away again, left it up more than I would have liked to. He got a little bit of the barrel on it and sliced it in there in front of Carlos.

"I think I did just about everything I wanted to do. I went at him, threw some tough pitches. It was a battle he won today. I'll see him again later down the road."

The Astros had jumped to an early advantage, building a 5-2 lead after scoring two in the sixth inning, highlighted by back-to-back doubles by Darin Erstad and Carlos Lee. But Oswalt yielded a leadoff double to Derrek Lee, who eventually scored on a Brad Ausmus passed ball. The next inning, the floodgates opened.

"You've got to like your chances with Roy Oswalt pitching and getting five runs," Cooper said. "You've got to like your chances. They didn't give up. They kept fighting. We couldn't put them away there. The seventh inning just kind of fell apart on us."

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