The Cubs have made a habit in the young season of frittering away quality starts, so why should Thursday have been any different?
Lefty Travis Wood looked on his way to pitching the Cubs' second complete-game victory in two days. He was perfect through 4 innings and looked strong on a cold and windy afternoon heading into the eighth with a 2-0 lead.
But the Cubs' defense got creative, and by the time the inning was over, the San Diego Padres had scored 4 runs on the way to a 4-2 victory and a split of the four-game series.
Wood took the hard-luck loss. He's 2-2 with a 2.50 ERA and quality starts in each of his first 6 outings.
"Basically, he was a missed popup away from pitching 8 shutout innings," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, whose team fell to 11-17. "Getting the loss was a shame."
The missed popup was only part of the misadventure. A passed ball and a lack of hustle by catcher Welington Castillo also played key roles in the Cubs' demise.
Wood went out for the eighth having thrown only 74 pitches. He had just been staked to a 2-0 lead from a 2-run homer by Scott Hairston.
The inning began with Jesus Guzman singling on a ball second baseman Darwin Barney couldn't quite get to in the hole. Wood then walked Kyle Blanks.
Things looked at least OK when Jedd Gyorko flied out to left field and Nick Hundley fouled out to right, where defensive replacement Julio Borbon made a nice catch. Guzman took third base.
Pinch hitter Yonder Alonso then hit the ball high into shallow right field. The sun was out, and the wind was howling in from the north. Barney looked like he might have a play, but Borbon came charging in, got a glove on the ball but couldn't hold on. The play went for an RBI single, putting runners on first and third.
"I took a couple hard steps in, and then when I realized there was a chance I could have caught it, I just started calling (Barney) off," Borbon said. "I talked to him about it. He said he didn't really see it up until the last minute. That's why he wasn't able to get out of the way early enough."
That ended Wood's day in favor of Shawn Camp. With Chris Denorfia batting, a Camp pitch got by Castillo for a passed ball. Castillo compounded the problem by not going hard after the ball. That hurt because the runner at third, Blanks, was not going hard until he saw Castillo not hustling.
"I talked to him," Sveum said of Castillo. "I think he thought (Blanks) was running and that he was just going to walk home, and he took it for granted."
Castillo owned up to the gaffe.
"Mental mistake," he said. "I want to apologize to my teammates for doing that. That's not going to happen anymore. I feel like I lost the game."
After Denorfia walked, lefty James Russell came in and gave up RBI singles to Everth Carbrera and Chase Headley.
Instead of talking about Wood's strong game, we're left to talk about another wasted quality start. Cubs starters have an ERA of 2.08 in 17 quality starts, but those starters have just 6 victories to their individual credit.
"It was a tough one to lose," Wood said. "We battled all game. To not be able to hold it off, it stings a little bit. He (Castillo) is a battler. He wants to be the best he can, but saying that, when a ball gets by you and kicks all the way to the left, you're thinking the guy's coming in easy, standing up without you even getting to the ball. With that being said, you've got to play every inning, every catch, every play like it's the last play."