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Costly mistakes spell loss for Cubs

Costly mistakes spell loss for Cubs

CHICAGO -- It's one thing to give the Cincinnati pitching credit for good games. It's another to give the game away.

On Thursday, Aaron Harang outdueled Carlos Zambrano in the seventh head to head meeting between the two right-handers to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-1 victory over the mistake-prone Cubs and take the series.

"It wasn't a pretty baseball game, not from our point of view anyways," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

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Joey Votto had four hits, including a solo homer and a RBI double, to back Harang (2-2). Zambrano suffered his first loss against the Reds after five straight wins.

Zambrano (1-1) struck out seven, and was charged with four runs on seven hits over seven innings. He retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced before Chris Dickerson tripled off the right-field wall, the ball richocheting past Micah Hoffpauir, to lead off the Reds' fourth. Two batters later, Jay Bruce singled to score Dickerson.

What happened?

"Initially I thought it would stay a little truer than it did," Hoffpauir said of Dickerson's ball. "It didn't. I still thought I was going to catch it. There's a brick wall out there -- I don't know if you guys know that -- and it got in my way."

Willy Taveras singled to open the Cincinnati sixth, and Zambrano threw over to first four times, but his fifth throw skipped away for an error, allowing the speedster to reach third. One out later, Piniella went to the mound to talk to Zambrano, then pulled the infield in. Votto doubled to left to make it 2-0.

The Reds had two on with none out in the seventh when Alex Gonzalez hit the ball to right. One run scored on the single, and another tallied on an error by Hoffpauir. Votto connected off Neal Cotts leading off the eighth for his third home run.

"I took an aggressive route there," Hoffpauir said of the seventh-inning play. "I was trying to keep it to a first-and-second situation there. I was trying to go hard and it took a hop and I didn't get it, and the rest is history."

Hoffpauir most likely won't be in right field on Friday when the Cubs open a three-game series in St. Louis. Expect an emphasis on defense with Kosuke Fukudome in right and Reed Johnson in center.

"That's baseball and part of this game," Hoffpauir said. "My job is to go out there and not screw things up, and that's what I did."

To his credit, Zambrano did not jump or scream or go ballistic after the mistakes in the field. That's the old Z.

"The most important thing was that I was able to keep my composure," Zambrano said. "That's good when I behave and I'm calm. I just executed pitches. Whatever happens in the field is part of the game. You have to be out there to pitch your game. That's the control you have. That's what you have control of -- your pitches."

He got a little advice from his 8-year-old daughter. On Wednesday, she told Zambrano that he had to believe in himself.

"I said, 'Who told you that?'" Zambrano said. "She said, 'Nobody.' That's a good quote. Believe in yourself and trust your stuff. Anything else that happens will happen and there's nothing you can do about it. Just pitch your game and give your team a chance to win the ballgame."

In the three-game series against the Reds, the Cubs stranded 24 runners on base and were 5-for-25 with runners in scoring position, including a 1-for-7 mark on Thursday. That's not going to get it done.

"We're not getting the big hit in situations," Alfonso Soriano said. "I know they have very good pitchers, but we have a very good offensive team. We're not getting hits at the right time."

"We got shut down," Chicago's Derrek Lee said. "We need to be better than that, it's as simple as that."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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