Piniella ejected, game delayed as Cubs lose sixth straight

Braves 5, Cubs 3

CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Cubs threw no punches. Manager Lou Piniella might have kicked an umpire, though.

And it was more of the same for the Cubs. This time, they fell 5-3 to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday and lost their sixth straight.

One day after Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett fought, Piniella got ejected after Angel Pagan got caught stealing third base in the eighth inning. The manager kicked dirt and tossed his cap several times.

Question is: Did he kick third-base umpire Mark Wegner, too?

Crew chief Bruce Froemming said yes. Piniella said no.

"He made physical contact with the third-base umpire," Froemming told a pool reporter. "He made physical contact with his foot, and he kicked dirt on [Wegner] several times, and the rest was show-and-tell."

Even before Friday's slugout in the dugout, the Cubs were a lost cause, writes Gene Wojciechowski.

Piniella countered: "Froemming is the one that put his hands on me."

Froemming said he was simply trying to calm Piniella, who "just wouldn't stop." And Froemming planned to call Major League Baseball's headquarters "immediately."

That issue aside, Piniella did say this about the call against Pagan: "He looked safe from the dugout, but after I saw the play, the umpire had it right."

Yunel Escobar, who got his first major league hit earlier in the game, doubled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and Andruw Jones led off the ninth with a homer to lead Atlanta over the reeling Cubs.

Escobar doubled to left off reliever Will Ohman (0-3) with two outs to drive in Scott Thorman and give Atlanta a 4-3 lead. It was the second hit for Escobar, who was called up to replace the injured Chipper Jones.

"He was very impressive the last two springs when we had him in camp," manager Bobby Cox said. "He's a player. It's fun to watch any young kid come up."

With the Cubs trailing 4-3, Pagan led off the eighth with a double down the right-field line off Tyler Yates (2-0) and tried to steal on the second pitch to Jacque Jones, when the ball bounced a few feet away from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Third-base coach Mike Quade argued. Piniella stormed out of the dugout and kicked dirt as he argued and tossed his cap, leading to an ejection by Wegner. Piniella continued to argue as fans littered the field with debris and he tossed his hat again before leaving.

The crowd chanted "Lou! Lou! Lou!"

The umpires cleared the Braves from the field and bullpen while the grounds crew picked up the garbage. Play resumed 7 minutes later.

It was the first ejection this year for Piniella.

Pagan, who thought his right hand beat the tag, had no regrets about trying to take third.

"I'm going to keep being aggressive," he said.

The frustration continues for the Cubs. They fined Zambrano and Barrett on Saturday for their altercation, which started in the dugout before the bottom of the fifth inning on Friday and resumed in the clubhouse. Barrett needed six stitches at a hospital and had a bruise below his left eye.

Zambrano blamed himself Saturday for the fight, saying "It's all my fault."

Barrett said he appreciated that and added there was no need for the pitcher to apologize.

"I think it happened because Zambrano and I are so close," he said. "I think of him like a brother. It's like a sibling rivalry."

The Braves scored three runs in the fourth.

Edgar Renteria drove an RBI double down the left-field line after a throwing error by pitcher Rich Hill in the fourth. Andruw Jones had an RBI groundout and Matt Diaz added an RBI double to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.

Chicago's Alfonso Soriano hit a solo homer in the fifth for the free-falling Cubs. Hill added an RBI double in the sixth but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. The Cubs tied it in the seventh, when Martin Prado misplayed a grounder by Aramis Ramirez that allowed Ryan Theriot to score from second.

Bob Wickman pitched a scoreless ninth for his ninth save in 11 chances.

"We're doing what we're supposed to do," Andruw Jones said. "We're pitching right, we're playing good 'D' and we're hitting when we need to hit. Today, Escobar came up and he came through right there."

Game notes
Atlanta's John Smoltz, bothered by discomfort in his right shoulder and an injured right pinkie finger, will miss his scheduled start on Sunday. ... Escobar, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Richmond after Chipper Jones went on the disabled list, singled in the first. ... Barrett was not in the lineup Saturday but was available. ... Cubs RF Matt Murton was a late scratch because of a sore back, so Pagan started in center and Jones in right. ... The Cubs reinstated RHP Juan Mateo (right shoulder impingement) from the 15-day disabled list after the game and optioned him to Class-A Peoria.