Trying to avoid a 100-loss season and looking for any glimpse of encouragement for the future, the Cubs got a strong performance from a pitcher they just picked up on waivers.
Jason Berken threw six shutout innings, allowing just two hits while facing a Cincinnati Reds lineup resting most of its regulars Thursday. The strong effort was lost, however, when reliever Manny Corpas gave up five straight singles and a two-run double in the seventh and the Reds clinched a playoff spot with a 5-3 win.
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"I was able to get a couple of jams, great defense behind me, stayed on the same page the whole game," Berken said.
Berken, picked up on waivers from Baltimore earlier this month, struck out four batters in one inning -- the fifth Cubs pitcher to ever do that -- when Ryan Hanigan reached on a third strike wild pitch in the second.
"I didn't realize it until I sat down in the dugout. It was cool, I guess," Berken said.
"By no means am I going for strikeouts. For me, it's important to force early contact and have the ability to pitch deep in the game. That inning I had some good sliders and got ahead in the count and got a couple good strikeouts. I'm not going to try to get used to that. I'd much rather have early contact versus a strikeout," he said.
Reds ace Johnny Cueto (18-9) ended his three-game losing streak. He pitched six scoreless innings, giving up five hits and four walks with a pair of strikeouts.
"I don't think that was the best stuff he's ever had. You can tell he might be getting a little tired at the end of the year or whatever, but I've seen him with a lot better stuff," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.
Corpas (0-2) took the loss.
The Reds' victory came without their manager Dusty Baker, who missed a second straight game after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Cincinnati's magic number for winning the NL Central for the second time in three years under Baker is now two.
"Obviously we won the last two games for him. We have him in our thoughts, but we got good news on his update," said reliever Sean Marshall, who, like Baker, once toiled for the Cubs.
"Hopefully he'll be back with us tomorrow and when it really matters, when we clinch (the division). Hopefully we get to celebrate this weekend with him," he said.
The Reds said Baker would remain in a Chicago hospital for an additional day so doctors could monitor his progress. The manager left Wrigley Field before Wednesday night's game and underwent another test Thursday.
Baker is expected to return to Cincinnati on Friday. Bench coach Chris Speier ran the team for a second straight game.
"He looked good. Very good. He'll be there tomorrow," said general manager Walt Jocketty, who visited Baker on Thursday morning. Jocketty said he didn't know if Baker would be able to manage when the Reds open a series at home against the Dodgers.
NOTES: The Cubs stay home to play the wild card-contending Cardinals with Chris Carpenter (0-0) set to make his season debut against Chris Volstad (3-10).