Baltimore County

Conspiracy theory

Tribune staff reporter

At the end of a long and grueling trip, Moises Alou sounded off about what he called an umpires' vendetta.

Alou said umpires were "after me" Sunday following the Cubs' 3-2 loss to the New York Mets, suggesting he is forced to perform on an uneven playing field.

"It's like guarding Shaq [O'Neal] with five fouls," Alou said. "This is what I'm going through right now. I'm not a guy that's going to complain or make an excuse. This is serious stuff."

The Cubs finished the four-city, 11-day trip with an 8-4 record, though they lost the last two to a Mets team that had dropped 25 of 34 entering the series. The Cubs begin the final regular-season homestand leading San Francisco by a half-game in the National League wild-card race, with Houston 11/2 games back.

Alou was visibly upset about a called third strike by Bill Miller on a 3-2 changeup from left-hander Al Leiter with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning with the Cubs trailing by a run. Alou said it was low and inside.

"I've been getting so many bad calls the last couple of months," Alou said. "That pitch wasn't even close. [Miller] has a terrible strike zone, terrible."

Alou said Major League Baseball disciplinarian Bob Watson sent him a letter threatening to suspend him if he gets ejected again, and he said he believes "some" umpires have a vendetta against him and are "baiting" him.

The Cubs never got a runner in scoring position the rest of the afternoon, winding up with only three hits against Leiter (10-8) and three relievers.

"The last few days were tough here," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "You could see guys dragging. New York is not a place that's conducive for rest."

Starter Kerry Wood survived a three-run first inning and shut out the Mets for the next six, but the Cubs' offense was missing again. In his first start since being examined for lower-back pain, Wood (8-8) started the first with a walk to leadoff hitter Jose Reyes.

Reyes stole second and scored on Kaz Matsui's single. After David Wright grounded into a double play, Wood gave up back-to-back singles before hitting Eric Valent, loading the bases.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild came out for a brief conference, after which Wood hit .218-hitting Jason Phillips to force in another run.

Gerald Williams, the Mets' No. 8 hitter who had only seven walks in 50 games, walked on four pitches to force in the third run.

Leiter held the Cubs hitless through the first three innings but walked Aramis Ramirez and Alou with one out in the fourth and gave up a run-scoring ground-rule double to Nomar Garciaparra on a routine fly that Valent lost in the sun in left field. Sammy Sosa's RBI groundout brought home Alou.

But Alou was called out on strikes in the fifth, and he vowed afterward to make an issue of his treatment with Major League Baseball.

"I've got about eight appeals, so they're going to have to listen to me," he said. "I was very frustrated there at what happened. We could've had a tie game and still be playing right now."

Now the Cubs have to regroup for one last push for the wild-card spot.

"It's not going to be a cakewalk," Wood said. "We're not just going to walk into a wild-card berth. We have to go out and get it. It's not going to be easy, and we're probably going to go down to the last day."

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