Cubs manager Lou Piniella and former Tampa Bay prospect Josh Hamilton exchanged pleasantries before Wednesday night's game at Wrigley Field.
Several hours later, Hamilton was busy ruining Piniella's night.
Bob Howry in the eighth inning led Cincinnati to an 11-9 comeback victory over the Cubs, preventing them from gaining ground on first-place Milwaukee.
The Cubs remained 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers, while third-place St. Louis is only 3 1/2 games out.
"It seems like we're in a pennant race," Piniella said. "I'm not too damn sure."
The way the Cubs are playing lately, Piniella can't be sure of what's up and what's down anymore. A poor start by Ted Lilly and a bad night for the bullpen sent the Cubs to their fourth straight loss and 10th in their last 13 games.
They're 4-10 in August and only one game over .500 for the first time since July 8.
"We put nine runs on the board," Piniella said. "That should be enough to win a baseball game. [Wednesday night] was one of those nights when it didn't."
The Cubs also fell to 10-19 against left-handers, despite chasing Reds rookie lefty Phil Dumatrait by the third inning and holding a three-run lead entering the sixth. Asked before the game what he could do about the Cubs' terrible record against left-handers, Piniella didn't have a ready answer.
"I don't know. What can we do?" he replied. "What would you do? I don't know. We're playing the right people, and we brought in the kid [Jake] Fox, who's hit left-handed pitching well.
"The guys that are in there have to get the job done. That's all. There's nothing else you can do."
The Cubs were able to take advantage of Dumatrait's wildness, knocking him out in the third inning after he walked the first two men he faced with a three-run lead. But Lilly, the Cubs' hottest starter of late, picked an inopportune time to turn in one of his worst outings in a Cubs uniform, allowing six runs in five innings.
Lilly had been 9-1 in his previous 12 starts, allowing four or more earned runs only twice. But the Reds scored four runs in the third inning alone, punishing Lilly just as they'd had their way with ace right-hander Carlos Zambrano on Tuesday night.
The Cubs trailed 6-3 before tying it in the bottom of the third, thanks to four straight walks and a two-run single by Ryan Theriot. A solo homer by Aramis Ramirez put them ahead in the fourth, and Jason Kendall's two-run shot in the fifth made it 9-6.
But Michael Wuertz gave up three runs while recording only one out in the top of the sixth, and Hamilton's homer off Howry (5-7) put the Reds back on top.
The Cubs made one last run in the ninth, but it wasn't much of a run. Jacque Jones singled off David Weathers with one out, but Ronny Cedeno hit into a force at second and Theriot grounded back to Weathers to end it.
The Cubs came in as one of the league's most vulnerable teams against left-handers, an Achilles' heel that has prevented them from taking off in the second half.
They were hitting .245 against left-handers as of Wednesday, ranking 13th in the National League, while their on-base percentage of .306 against lefties was dead last. It wasn't much different from 2006, when the Cubs finished last in the league with a .253 batting average and a .314 on-base percentage against left-handers.
For one night, the curse of the lefties seemed to be lifted.
"We might get in a streak here where we beat up on lefties," Piniella said beforehand. "Hopefully that'll be the case."
Beating up on lefties is all well and good, unless your own lefty gets beat up at the same time. Then you're back at square one.
Reds 11, Cubs 9
Stingin in the rain
Piniella miffed as Cubs give it up on dreary night
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