The Cubs lost for the eighth time in the past nine games when Brendan Ryan scored on a fielder's choice, dodging an attempted tag at the plate, with one out in the ninth inning.
With the game tied at 3 against Carlos Marmol (2-4), Yadier Molina singled and was lifted for Ryan. As Marmol battled Felipe Lopez, he was called for a balk, and Ryan advanced. Lopez then walked, and both runners moved up on pinch-hitter Brian Barden's perfectly executed sacrifice.
Cesar Izturis bounced the ball to second baseman Mark DeRosa, who threw home, but Ryan slid under catcher Geovany Soto's swipe tag for the walk-off win. The Cubs also lost Sunday on a walk-off hit by Cincinnati.
Piniella didn't talk to the media after Sunday's game. On Tuesday, he erupted.
"We had many chances today and we had many chances Sunday in Cincinnati and it's the same result," he said. "If we had played ball like this all year, we wouldn't be here playing for a championship. We'd be playing the spoiler role for somebody else.
"I know we're trying," Piniella said. "I've got no complaints with the effort. You've got to get the job done. We can talk about having fun, we can talk about relaxing. You've got to get your shirts rolled up and go out and kick somebody's [butt]. That's what you have to do, period. Period. That's all I've got to say."
"We've gotten ourselves in good position, but you have to close the deal."
-- Cubs manager|
There's no need to remind anyone on the current team about the 1969 Cubs' collapse, or the 100-year drought since the last World Series win. All you had to do was hear how hard Piniella slammed a beverage can onto his desk to punctuate his statements.
"The ball's not bouncing our way," shortstop Ryan Theriot said. "We had maybe one chance to score other than the times we did. I thought [Ryan] Dempster threw the ball well. We might be playing a little tight, I don't know."
Dempster did not get a decision in his third attempt at win No. 16, which would be a single-season career high. He gave up three runs on seven hits over seven innings, striking out six. He didn't have an answer either.
"It [stinks] to lose a baseball game, no matter if it's April 1 or whatever today is," Dempster said. "We know we're good. We just have to go out there and win a game and go from there."
The Cubs had chances.
Theriot and Piniella talked before the game, and the shortstop was a late add to the Cubs' starting lineup. He had come out of Sunday's game in Cincinnati after feeling dizzy, was examined by a doctor Tuesday in St. Louis and wasn't in the original lineup.
But Theriot seemed fine early on, singling in the first and scoring on Derrek Lee's double. Aramis Ramirez followed with an RBI double to make it 2-0. With one out in the third, Theriot tripled and scored one out later on Ramirez's single.
But the Cardinals tied the game at 3 in the sixth on Albert Pujols' 33rd home run, which drove in Skip Schumaker, who doubled, and Aaron Miles, who reached on an infield single. Pujols launched the first pitch from Dempster to right.
"I was just trying to get Albert out," Dempster said. "I made a mistake. It was up out of the zone, and he hit it out the other way."
"Pujols can hit a home run off anybody, and he did," Piniella said. "He's their big guy, and their big guy got it done."
The Cubs didn't. Chicago was unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded situation in the sixth. In the eighth, Jim Edmonds walked and was lifted for pinch-runner Felix Pie. Soto bunted a comebacker to pitcher Ryan Franklin, who turned a double play. Chicago had another chance in the ninth when Kosuke Fukudome walked to lead off, but Alfonso Soriano hit into a 5-4-3 double play. The Cubs stranded eight.
"I think there's a lot of frustration because everybody likes to win," Soriano said. "We have to find a way out of this slump. I don't know what we can do. We have to try to come back tomorrow and play 100 percent and try to win tomorrow."
Marmol did take the loss, but made a stellar defensive play in the eighth when he snared Ryan Ludwick's liner, then fell to his knees off the mound but was able to double-up Pujols at first. Then came the ninth.
"We're just not quite getting over the hump," Lee said. "Our offense hasn't been quite right outside of the one game. We need to swing the bats better. We need to play better."
Are the guys a little tight?
"I don't feel that," Lee said. "I just feel like we're not swinging the bats like we're capable."
"We just have to come back tomorrow and try to win a baseball game," Dempster said. "Have fun. We're putting pressure on ourselves to try to do more than we're capable of doing. If we come to the ballpark and we're prepared and we hustle, with the talent we have in this room, we're going to be better than a lot of teams. Then you're just responsible for executing."
The Cubs maintained a 4 1/2-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers -- who lost to the Reds -- in the National League Central with 18 games remaining, all against teams with winning records.
"We've gotten ourselves in good position, but you have to close the deal," Piniella said. "The teams we need to beat are right in front of us. We don't need any help."