CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are not supposed to be very good against left-handers, but that did not stop them from hanging another "L" on Chris Capauno. The Brewers lefty replaced an injured Manny Parra and was burned by back-to-back Cubs homers with two outs in the sixth inning, enough for a 5-4 Brewers loss at Wrigley Field on Thursday in the final regular-season matchup between the teams. From here out, the second-place Brewers cannot gain ground on the National League Central-leading Cubs without some help. "It's a tough loss," Capuano conceded outside the Brewers clubhouse. "Everyone in there is taking this loss pretty hard."
After evening the series at a game apiece behind Ben Sheets on Wednesday night, the Brewers missed a chance to pull within one-half game of first place. Instead, the Cubs widened their lead over the Brewers to 2 1/2 games, with the Cardinals looming another half-game back. The Brewers went with rookie starter Parra because the Cubs entered the day 12-20 against left-handed starters. But Parra exited his second Major League start with a bruised and bloodied thumb suffered on a bunt attempt and was replaced by another lefty, Capuano, who entered a 3-3 ballgame and lost his 12th consecutive decision. The team has lost the last 18 games in which Capuano has pitched, the last two coming in relief after manager Ned Yost bumped Capuano to the bullpen. The streak might be eating Capuano up inside, but he continues to be stoic about it. "I just try to take as much emotion out of it as I can," Capuano said. "When I'm out there, I just focus on making a pitch. Irrespective of any turmoil going on inside you, our job as athletes is to focus on a task. That is what I've got to do." He delivered some quality innings on Thursday -- holding the Cubs scoreless except for the two solo homers in four innings of work -- but was burned by a three-pitch series in the sixth. With the teams tied at 3 since the third inning, Capuano retired two Cubs hitters and worked into a full count against Matt Murton, who entered as part of a double switch earlier in the inning. Catcher Damian Miller set up away, but Capuano's changeup got too much of the plate and Murton hammered it into the left-field seats. Two pitches later, Alfonso Soriano hit a low fastball to the same spot. "Besides that, he threw the ball good," Yost said. "It's the same old story." Home runs have hurt Capuano of late. With two more on Thursday, he has surrendered seven home runs over his last three outings and 10 home runs in six games this month. Capuano surrendered 10 total home runs in the first four months of 2007.
Parra was starting in place of Claudio Vargas, who was placed on the DL earlier in the week with a back injury. That left Capuano as the only long man in the bullpen.
"We didn't have any other choice," Yost said. "He threw the ball well. He just gave up two home runs."
Rickie Weeks hit a leadoff home run, and Kevin Mench drove in a pair of runs for the Brewers, who took a 2-0 lead on Ted Lilly and the Cubs in the first inning but saw it slip away in the bottom of the second inning. A three-run Cubs rally against Parra was sparked when right fielder Corey Hart lost a Craig Monroe line drive in the lights.
Mench hit a sacrifice fly in the third inning that tied the game at 3, and it was still tied in the bottom of the sixth before the Cubs' fourth back-to-back homer effort this season.
The Brewers were not finished. They threatened in the seventh, moving runners to second and third against Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol (4-1). But Hart was called out on a pitch that apparently caught the outside corner, according to plate umpire Brian Gorman.
Marmol took the win after two sharp innings of work, holding the Brewers scoreless on one hit with five strikeouts.
The Brewers mounted an even more serious threat against Cubs closer Ryan Dempster in the ninth, when Joe Dillon led off with a pinch-hit double. Four batters later, and with two outs, Dempster intentionally walked Prince Fielder to load the bases for Hart, and this time the full-count pitch was called ball four, forcing in a run.
The next batter was Mench, who swung at the first pitch and popped up on the infield to end the game.
At the time, Yost had a pair of left-handed hitters on the bench to potentially face Dempster, who had held right-handed hitters like Mench to a .167 average entering the day while lefties hit .234. Mench entered play batting .215 against right-handers, 94 points lower than his mark against lefties.
But Yost cited matchups for sticking with Mench. Geoff Jenkins was 4-for-18 against Dempster (.222) and Craig Counsell 1-for-10 (.100).
"Mench was 0-for-1 off [Dempster] lifetime, so 'flow of the game' kind of won over for me right there," Yost said. "There was no heads or tails big advantage, hitting-wise, to pull a guy cold off the bench."
Parra was charged with three runs on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts in three innings. He popped out on a bunt attempt in the top of the fourth inning and suffered a bruised left thumb, promoting a call for Capuano.
Asked if the injury will force Parra to miss a start, Yost said, "I don't see how it couldn't."
|"I just try to take as much emotion out of it as I can. When I'm out there, I just focus on making a pitch. Irrespective of any turmoil going on inside you, our job as athletes is to focus on a task. That is what I've got to do."|
|-- Chris Capuano|
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.