Calls bring focus back to offense

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs can talk all they want about what was taken away from them in the eighth inning Saturday, the fact is that the discussion continues to revert back to an offense that is anything but opportunistic.

Apparent blown calls by the umpires in the eighth inning not only led to Alfonso Soriano getting picked off second base and Darwin Barney missing out on a walk with the bases loaded, the Houston Astros then turned around to win the game 4-3 on a ninth-inning squeeze bunt by Ronny Cedeno.

What will haunt the Cubs is their failure to score more in the third inning after loading the bases with one out (Soriano popped out and Anthony Rizzo struck out), while failing to do any damage with two runners on and one out in the fourth inning.

They did score twice in the third inning on Luis Valbuena's two-run single and again in the fifth on a home run from Nate Schierholtz, but putting together sustained rallies has proved to be daunting.

“It’s a broken record,” manager Dale Sveum said. “We just can’t seem to get that hit to bust the game open in those situations. We get guys on and we just can’t get them in.”

The lack of early clutch inning only put more focus on the eighth when nothing seemed to go the Cubs’ way. After Soriano’s one-out double, Rizzo was intentionally walked. With Ryan Sweeney at the plate and Astros pitcher Jose Cisnero seemingly struggling with his control, Soriano took it upon himself to be an even further distraction at second base.

Cisnero might have had problems throwing to the plate, but he had no issues throwing a strike to second base just as Soriano went hands-first into the bag. Television replays showed a bang-bang play, with Soriano getting called out. Sveum argued with second-base umpire David Rackley to no avail.

To make matters worse, Sweeney then dropped a single into center field that would have tied the game. After Welington Castillo walked to load the bases, Barney appeared to walk on a 3-1 pitch that was low and inside. But umpire Phil Cuzzi called it a strike and Barney went on to pop out.

The Astros scored in the ninth inning off reliever Kevin Gregg with a double from Justin Maxwell, a sacrifice bunt and Cedeno’s bunt just to the right side of the mound.

“I never get mad,” Soriano said. “Sometimes they call a bad pitch and it’s not an easy job that they have. But when I get mad with something they call it’s just because 100 percent that they didn’t have the right call. I know I was safe, but it’s part of the game. I have a lot of respect for the umpire but they called me out and I know I was safe.”

The Cubs have remained competitive all season with 38 games now decided by two runs or less. But without any clutch hitting, they are 15-23 in those games.

“It’s been the whole year like that where we haven’t got the big hit when we need it,” Soriano said. “It’s been (a source of) frustration, but we’ll try to forget this game today and come back and try to win the series (Sunday).”