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Ninth-inning loss leaves Cubs feeling philosophical

CHICAGO -- Following a loss that was worthy of the agony-of-defeat portion of the opening on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon strolled into the interview in Wrigley Field on Wednesday night with a smile.

The Cubs, after losing starter Jason Hammel to tightness in his left hamstring in the second inning and trailing by four runs, rallied to take the lead late. They were one strike away from perhaps the most rousing victory of the surprising first half of the season when disaster struck.

Reliever Pedro Strop left a fastball up and over the plate and Jhonny Peralta hammered the mistake into the left-field bleachers for a two-run home run to totally flip the script.

Instead of a signature victory, the Cubs had a crushing 6-5 defeat to the rival St. Louis Cardinals.

So why exactly was Maddon smiling?

"That's baseball," he said. "We had to execute a pitch. We didn't do that, thus they win the game. We made a mistake at the end of the game, but we did so many good things tonight.

"For me, I can't walk away and be all upset. Of course, Stropy would have liked to have made a better pitch. He didn't. Peralta's pretty good and he hit a home run. It happens. Regardless of who it happened against, we can play with anybody and we proved that these last four games."

Strop (1-4) was trying to close out the game because Jason Motte was unavailable because of a heavy recent workload. With the Cubs clinging to a 5-4 lead after rallying for three runs in the sixth inning, Strop quickly retired the first two batters before issuing a walk to Matt Carpenter. Strop then got ahead of Peralta 1-2 before the mistake.

The Cubs players didn't seem to take the loss as well as their manager.

"It is tough, especially against a team from our division and we're trying to catch those guys," Strop said. "Of course, it was a tough one to swallow. Two outs, two strikes, it's really tough. That's one of those times you understand baseball is tough. It's not as easy as it looks on TV."

Catcher Miguel Montero was in line to be the hero after his three-run, two-out double in the sixth gave Chicago a 5-4 lead, but he was in no mood to discuss his hit afterward.

"It was a good at-bat, but in the end it doesn't mean anything," he said. "We lost the game."

Like everyone else, Montero replayed the top of the ninth in his mind.

"[Strop] got two outs real quick and then he just tried to do too much," Montero said. "Carpenter is a good hitter but he's not swinging the bat well of late, so you really don't want to walk that guy. You want to try to get him to hit the ball. Those pitches weren't even close. A two-out walk will hunt you down."

So instead of winning three of four from the National League Central-leading Cardinals, the Cubs had to settle for a split.

The way Maddon sees it, there were just too many positives before the ninth inning to only focus on that.

"When you lose your starter like that in the second inning, it's tough to piece that many innings together successfully," the manager said. "We did and we had the right guy on the mound at the end of the game.

"Yeah, we did lose the game -- absolutely, that matters -- but the positive side is if we can continue to play that way, Stropy's gonna make the pitch, the line drives that got caught are gonna fall. I don't want our guys to feel badly about that, especially Stropy because he's gonna be a big part of what we're gonna do the rest of the season.

"It's an unfortunate moment. You have to turn the page and move on. It's not easy but actually the day off [Thursday] might be an aide in the situation."

Meanwhile, Hammel has no idea how serious his injury might be and the Cubs will have to wait until after he gets an MRI on Thursday.

"It was after the second pitch," Hammel said. "It was a sharp pain in the back of the knee. Every pitch after just got tighter and tighter. I came in and tried to stretch it. It was pretty much a no-go. I would have loved to have pitched through it."