Lieber (2-2) had been inserted into Chicago's rotation in place of Rich Hill, who was demoted to Triple-A Iowa. It was the right-hander's first start since June 20, 2007, when he pitched for Philadelphia. Last season ended early for Lieber because of foot problems. Wednesday's game ended early because of the Reds, who totaled five runs on seven hits over two innings off the veteran.
"I just have to execute pitches, and I didn't do a very good job of that," Lieber said. "They were aggressive early in the count, I made mistakes that I didn't get away with and they hurt me with them."
The last time Lieber had a game like this was during his first season with the Cubs in 1999 against St. Louis, when he gave up six runs over 6 2/3 innings. It's not an experience he wanted to repeat.
"[The pitches] were basically across the middle of the plate, and I'm not the kind of pitcher who can get away with stuff like that," Lieber said. "I really have to locate. I looked at the tape, and I don't feel like my rhythm was very good either."
Votto got the Reds' second started with a leadoff home run, his fifth, off a 1-1 pitch from Lieber. The fireworks crew at Great American Ball Park barely had time to reload before Adam Dunn launched his sixth homer two pitches later, also to right. One out later, Paul Bako hit his fourth, connecting on the first pitch from Lieber.
Edinson Volquez then singled, and one out later, Jerry Hairston Jr. hit his first of the season. The four homers were measured at 401 feet, 428, 409, and 362, respectively, totaling 1,600 feet.
Votto, Dunn, Bako and Hairston came into the game with 302 home runs combined. Ken Griffey Jr., who has 597, singled after Hairston's shot, and was forced at second to end the inning.
"They hit the ball pretty hard," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.
It's only the second time a Cubs pitcher has served up four homers in one inning, matching a feat accomplished Aug. 8, 2000, by Phil Norton in Los Angeles.
The Reds weren't done. Brandon Phillips and Votto hit back-to-back blasts in the fifth off Sean Marshall. If you're measuring at home, those were 359 and 414 feet. Votto became the 23rd Reds player to collect three homers in a game when he notched his seventh in the sixth inning, a two-run shot with two outs off Sean Gallagher. It traveled 396 feet.
"They weren't terrible pitches, but they got a little bit of home plate," Cubs catcher Geovany Soto said. "Things were going well for them and the wind was blowing out. We could've made better pitches, but we just didn't execute and Votto had some good at-bats."
This was the seventh time since 1960 that the Cubs have served up seven or more home runs in a game.
The Cubs' club record for most homers allowed in a game is eight, done twice in 2006, most recently June 18 by Detroit at Wrigley Field in an Interleague game. Mark Prior served up three in the first inning in that game. On May 28, 2006, the Atlanta Braves also clubbed eight home runs off the Cubs at Wrigley Field, including four off Jae-Kuk Ryu, but not in one inning. Current Reds manager Dusty Baker was the Cubs' skipper at that time.
Whether Lieber stays in the rotation has yet to be decided. He was headed home on the off-day to celebrate one of his son's birthdays.
"We don't need to make a decision right now," Piniella said about the rotation. "We'll think about it and see what we can do."
Volquez (5-1) benefitted from the offense. He matched a career high with 10 strikeouts, and gave up four hits and six walks over seven innings for the win.
The Cubs haven't exactly followed up their stellar April with a good May.
"It's a little frustrating," Chicago's Derrek Lee said. "You don't want to give back what you gained. It happened, and you put it behind you and try to start fresh at home."
"You're not going to stay on those peaks," Lee said. "We had a great month, but we've come back down to earth. There's still a lot of games to be played."
How bad was this 2-4 trip to St. Louis and Cincinnati? Even Kosuke Fukudome asked the Japanese media to give him a day off after Wednesday's game. He went 4-for-23 in the six games.
"We didn't hit the way we wanted to, but St. Louis is in first place for a reason, and [the Reds] have good arms," Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "We have to go home and start all over again. We have the talent to do it. We just have to come out of this and play good ball."