A few little things ended up nickel-and-diming the Cubs to death Saturday in a 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field.
Starting pitcher Travis Wood missed badly on just one pitch, and it cost him a game-tying 3-run homer by J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning.
The Cubs had a chance to go back ahead in the bottom of the eighth, but Alfonso Soriano was picked off second base with runners on first and second and one out.
Later that inning, Darwin Barney looked to have walked on a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded, but home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi called the pitch a strike, and Barney wound up popping out.
Reliable closer Kevin Gregg gave up a run in the ninth inning on a small scoring play -- a squeeze bunt executed by former Cub Ronny Cedeno. And that was that.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum was in a suitably foul mood afterward.
"Well, yeah, Soriano's safe at second base," said Sveum, whose team dropped to 30-43. "There's a run. The guy (Astros reliever Jose Cisnero) is throwing the ball all over the place. Barney takes the 3-1 pitch, and it's eight inches inside. So it's popup and an out. It's a shame."
That's the way it goes a lot of times for losing teams, even when they're playing a Houston team that's 29-47.
Soriano, who rarely displays emotion over bad calls, was upset with second-base umpire David Rackley because Soriano felt his hand was on the bag before the tag was applied.
"I never get mad," Soriano said. "Sometimes they call a bad pitch. It's not an easy job they have. When I get mad at something they call, it's just because I'm 100 percent they didn't have the right call, and they called me out. I know I'm safe, and that's why I got mad."
The Cubs had their chances. They were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, making them 1-for-16 over the last four games.
"I think the whole year is like that," Soriano said. "Nobody was hitting when we need it. It's a little frustration, but we're trying to forget this game today and come back tomorrow and win the series."
Wood turned in his major-league-leading 14th quality start, but he hasn't won since May 30. His ERA is 2.85. He sailed until the sixth, when he threw 24 pitches. He was gone after a 4-pitch walk to Matt Dominguez starting the seventh.
"I didn't feel tired or anything," Wood said. "I was cruising, but I've got to bear down right there, knowing the tying run's at the plate. I missed bad with the pitch. It's supposed to be backdoor, and it ended up coming all the way across the plate. That just can't happen."
The Cubs need to help themselves in another area, too, and the onus is on the front office to act.
Currently, they're carrying 13 pitchers, meaning they have just four bench players. Not long ago, a roster with 12 pitchers was considered unwieldy. Twelve is the norm now, but 13 is more than unlucky. It makes a manager's job nearly impossible in the late innings.
The Astros closed with right-hander Jose Veras. Sveum had already used left-handed pinch hitter Julio Borbon, so he sent up right-handed hitting Scott Hairston as a pinch hitter to lead off the ninth, and Hairston struck out. Switch hitter Dioner Navarro was available, but he's the backup catcher, and managers don't like burning them, in case of injury to the starter.
Sveum said the issue would be addressed by Tuesday's series opener at Milwaukee. Until then, the situation has the potential of being yet another little thing that can kill the Cubs in a big way during a key situation.