Jason Hammel struck out the side to start the game. That fast start quickly unraveled for the Cubs right-hander.
Hammel gave up four runs in the second inning and Chicago lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 5-3 Thursday.
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St. Louis rookie pitcher Michael Wacha's two-run single in between a run-scoring groundout by Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter's RBI double was the key hit in the inning.
"It's a kiss of death to strike out the side in the first inning," Hammel said. "Today was probably the best physically I've felt all year. That's the way the game works. Sometimes it doesn't work out. I was able to battle through it and keep us in it for a while.
"I was aggressive, but I wasn't quality aggressive. That's where I've got to make my adjustments. A lot of it was just bad timing for misses. I was confident in what I was doing. It was a little bit of a labor," he said.
Hammel (4-2) gave up five runs on five hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings, raising his ERA to 3.06. He struck out six.
The Cubs have lost nine of their last 11 and are off to the worst start in 39 games (13-26) since 2002.
Despite that statistic, Hammel said he believes Chicago is not that far off.
"You've got to stay looking at the positives because we've played a lot of good ballgames," Hammel said, "We're not getting blown out. It's not ugly games. It's just one or two pitches here or there or one or two timely hits we haven't gotten.
"We're not just laying down. It's frustrating but actually, we've played pretty good ball," he said.
The 6-foot-6 Wacha (3-3) had lost his last three decisions since an April 13 win over the Cubs. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed seven hits, including a homer, but did not walk a batter. He struck out five in seven innings.
"I was able to pound the strike zone down in the zone and it was pretty effective," Wacha said. "I kept them off-balance, which means it's a pretty good day. It's definitely nice to go deep into a ballgame and get a win. It definitely gets your confidence going in the next start that's for sure."
Trevor Rosenthal pitched 1 2-3 innings for his 11th save. Rosenthal, who blew a save Tuesday, inherited a one-out, bases-loaded situation and gave up a sacrifice fly, but closed out the inning and retired the side in the ninth.
Chicago got two runs back in the fourth on a home run just inside the left-field foul pole by Starlin Castro. He drove in No. 3 hitter Anthony Rizzo, who beat the St. Louis shift to the right side with his second bunt to the left side in two at-bats.
When Rizzo came to bat in the fifth and seventh, St. Louis did not shift.
"If they're going to give me that, I might as well take it," Rizzo said. "We were able to cash in once. I almost make them pay twice for it. Wacha is a great pitcher, but you get him on the stretch and try to get him off his game a little bit."
The Cardinals made it 5-2 when Molina lined a 3-2 pitch just inside the line in left for a one-out RBI single.
Junior Lake hit a sacrifice fly for a run in the eighth, but Rosenthal got out the jam.
"We just couldn't get the big hit when we needed it," Chicago manager Rick Renteria said.
NOTES: Rizzo has three career bunt singles with the Cubs after getting one in his previous 285 games. ... Lake hit safely in all three games of the series (5-for-14 .375, a homer and seven RBIs) to raise his average to .393 against St. Louis and .205 against all other opponents. ... The Cardinals announced the time for making up Wednesday's game with the Cubs that was rained out. It will be played at 1:15 p.m. Aug. 30 as part of a split doubleheader. The second game will start at 7:15 p.m. instead of 6:15 p.m. ... The Cardinals recalled 2B Kolten Wong on Wednesday from Triple-A Memphis and optioned infielder Greg Garcia back to the club. Wong was optioned April 27 after hitting .225 in 20 games. He hit .344 in 10 games at Memphis. He was not in the starting lineup as he was still battling the effects of a stomach virus.