Ortiz roughed up as Astros fall to Cubs

Ortiz roughed up as Astros fall

CHICAGO -- When the Astros arrived at Wrigley Field on Monday, they were a team on the rise and looking forward to facing the Cubs, who they were chasing in the National League Central division. They left wondering where the momentum had gone.

The Cubs feasted on a Houston starting pitcher for the second day in a row, chasing right-hander Russ Ortiz after nine hits and nine earned runs in 2 1/3 innings to send the Astros to their fifth loss in six games, 12-3, on Thursday afternoon.

Ortiz, who was 0-3 with a 12.23 ERA in five July starts, was placed on waivers following the game for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.

"Every bad pitch they hit, every good pitch they hit," he said. "I came out for that game feeling like I was ready and I don't worry about anything but making my pitches. That third inning I was making all my pitches and they still hit them. That's the frustrating part.

"You prepare and you feel there are times when you do make pitches and they get the hits. It wasn't from a lack of anything except I wasn't able to get it done, especially the last two times out. I've been known throughout my career for getting out of jams and making pitches when I need to, and it's just not happening and hasn't been happening that way."

Chicago, which beat the Astros 12-0 on Wednesday, scored four runs off Ortiz in the second inning and five in the third to take a 9-3 lead. The Cubs outhit the Astros 27-13 in the final two games of the series and outscored them, 24-3.

Houston (51-51) opens a three-game series at St. Louis on Friday.

"It stinks coming here and losing," Astros first baseman Geoff Blum said. "We had a chance to take advantage of the situation and get possibly to the top of the heap, and get a couple of steps closer and we lost a step. It was a bit of a hiccup. We're going into St. Louis facing some good pitching, and if we can pick up a couple of games there and stay within striking distance, we should be alright."

Carlos Lee gave the Astros a 1-0 lead with a leadoff homer in second -- the 19th of his career at Wrigley Field and the 298th of his career. Ortiz had a walk and three strikeouts in the first, but once the Cubs started making contact, it got ugly in a hurry.

Kosuke Fukudome had a two-run single and Ryan Theriot a two-run double in the second inning to make it 4-1. Kazuo Matsui's two-run homer in the third sliced the lead to 4-3, but the Cubs scored five runs on six hits in the third to take a 9-3 lead, including back-to-back homers by Jake Fox and Milton Bradley.

"At this level, you can't pitch behind in the count, and that's kind of been a theme here lately," Cooper said. "We just had to make the move [to waive Ortiz]. We couldn't continue to go in this direction. It's killing our bullpen and, particular today, was really rough on us."

In the last three games of the series, Astros relievers pitched 17 innings, compared to only eight innings for the starters. Roy Oswalt left Tuesday after 1 2/3 innings with a back strain, and Mike Hampton gave up nine runs and eight hits in four innings Wednesday.

The last time Astros starters allowed at least nine runs in consecutive games was July 1-2, 1980 in Atlanta, where Joe Niekro gave up 11 and Vern Ruhle allowed 10.

"We just need to start from scratch again, that's all," Cooper said. "We go to St. Louis and can kind of get started again, and hopefully we can get a couple of good starting performances and get us on a run again."

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