Astros slugger Carlos Lee changed the course of the game with a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth, but Houston was unable to hold the lead Sunday afternoon and wound up falling short 5-4 in 10 innings against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Chicago completed the three-game weekend sweep, thanks in part to pinch-hitter Jeff Baker’s first career game-winning base hit.
The Astros utilized the long ball — a lingering issue for the offense this season — to generate three of their four runs, which put them in position to possibly escape with the victory, despite a horrendous 0-for-8 performance with runners in scoring position.
Shortstop Clint Barmes belted his sixth homer of the season — a solo shot to left — in the opening frame to give Houston an early 1-0 lead.
However, the Cubs bounced back with three runs off Houston starter Jordan Lyles in the second, with Geovany Soto tying the game with an RBI double to open the door for Darwin Barney’s go-ahead double and right-hander Matt Garza’s RBI single.
Marlon Byrd, who scored Chicago’s first run of the afternoon, finished with a game-high four hits and crossed the plate three times.
Lyles helped himself with the bat by leading off the fifth with an infield single and advancing to second on Michael Bourn’s single.
He made it to third on Barmes’ sacrifice bunt and scored on Hunter Pence’s RBI groundout to shortstop, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Lyles allowed three earned runs on nine hits with one walk and five strikeouts over six innings to remain winless in his rookie campaign.
Although the 20-year-old right-hander continues to become more consistent in hitting spots, as well as doing his part to keep the team in ballgames, he unfortunately tied a franchise record for most consecutive losses (10) to begin his Astros’ career.
“Jordan threw the ball really well,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “He had the tough third inning when they got those three runs. A couple of doubles and a base hit got him in trouble, but he was able to work through it. He got four innings after that.”
Cubs manager Mike Quade pulled Garza after seven stellar innings and turn the ball over to the bullpen to hold the one-run lead.
Garza yielded two earned runs on five hits with three walks and nine strikeouts over 107 pitches (67 for strikes) to earn a no-decision.
Lee took a victory away from Garza with a monstrous two-run homer to left off Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija to give Houston a 4-3 lead.
Astros reliever Wilton Lopez wasn’t able to hold a one-run lead, as he yielded a leadoff single to Byrd in the bottom of the eighth, followed by Soto’s single, which gave the Cubs runners at first and third with no outs with Alfonso Soriano at the plate.
Soriano tied the game at 4-4 with an RBI single.
The Astros missed out on an opportunity to not only regain the momentum, but the lead, off Cubs closer Carlos Marmol in the ninth.
Jose Altuve reached on a single and advanced to third on Tony Campana’s fielding error in left stemming from Bourn’s single.
With one out and runners at second and third, Marmol issued Barmes an intentional, bases-loaded walk to set up a possible double play.
Marmol struck out Pence for the second out and retired Lee to end the inning, thus putting a stop to a potential big inning for Houston.
The Astros threatened in the top of 10th when third baseman Chris Johnson led off the inning with an infield single and advanced to second on outfielder Jason Bourgeois’ sacrifice bunt.
Cubs reliever John Grabow (2-0) issued an international walk to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, but this time around, Chicago got Humberto Quintero to ground into the inning-ending double play.
Byrd cracked his fourth hit — a leadoff triple — in the bottom half of the inning off Astros reliever David Carpenter that fell into deep right-center as the result of Pence losing the ball in the sun.
“The sun is bad out there,” Mills said. “I haven’t talked to him about it yet, but obviously, there’s no doubt that he lost the ball.”
Carpenter (0-1) struck out Soto, but was forced to issue two consecutive intentional walks in order to set up a potential double play.
Baker put the dagger in Houston with the game-winning hit.
“Our bullpen has been so good,” Mills said. “Carlos hit the home run and you’d like to be able to see them finish it. It didn’t happen.
With the intentional walks, we wanted to face a guy [Baker] who hadn’t been in the game yet. He put a real good swing on it.”
Chicago has won three straight for the first time in 2011 and justified being swept by Houston earlier this season (May 30-June 1).
Mills’ squad will continue their 10-game road trip by opening up a four-game series Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals.
J.A. Happ (4-11, 5.88 ERA) gets the starting nod in the opener versus Cardinals right-hander Kyle McClellan (6-6, 4.34 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT.
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