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Ninth inning rally falls just short

Ninth inning rally falls just short

CHICAGO -- Derrek Lee is starting to get his timing back, and it couldn't happen at a better time for the Cubs.

Lee went 4-for-5 on Sunday, including a solo home run and an RBI double, in the Cubs' 6-5 loss to the Houston Astros. It was his first multihit game since May 1 and first four-hit game since Sept. 6.

The key for Lee, though, may have been an at-bat the day before. On Saturday, the Cubs and Astros were scoreless and Chicago had a runner at third and two outs in the sixth against Roy Oswalt. Lee fell behind, 0-2, but worked the count full and then delivered an RBI single. Lou Piniella called it a "gritty" at-bat.

"It was a good at-bat for me," Lee said of his Saturday single. "The main thing was I was starting to feel good before I went out [with neck spasms], and then when I came back, the first couple games I had no timing. [On Saturday], I started to get some timing back.

"[On Sunday], I felt a little better. For me, the main thing is staying in there and getting consistent at-bats. That's the only chance you give yourself of finding your stroke. When you have your stroke, you can sit as long as you want."

Lee was 1-for-10 on the homestand prior to Sunday's game, and he has heard the fans boo him enough. Now hitting .226, Lee has his teammates' support.

"I believe in him," said Alfonso Soriano, who hit a solo homer in the ninth. "He's hit his whole career in the big leagues. Sometimes people have a bad month, but I think he'll be fine. I think he'll have a good year."

"I'm just grinding and trying to have good at-bats every time," Lee said. "Today, I felt better, and hopefully I can build on it."

There was one little side note from Saturday's at-bat. Lee had an interesting exchange with home-plate umpire Bill Hohn.

"I fouled a pitch off and said, 'Bill, is that a strike?' and he said, 'I don't know,'" Lee said, laughing. "I said, 'Bill, that does not help me. I guess I better swing at everything.'"

Lee's finding himself, however, wasn't enough for the Cubs on Sunday. Ivan Rodriguez belted his 300th career homer, a two-run shot in a four-run fourth, to spark the Astros to victory and snap the Chicago's winning streak at five games. Houston held off a late rally by the Cubs, who scored two runs in the ninth on Soriano's home run and Milton Bradley's RBI single. But Chris Sampson got Geovany Soto to line out to third baseman Jeff Keppinger to end the game.

Rich Harden (4-2) took the loss, giving up four runs on six hits over six innings while striking out seven. The Cubs had taken a 2-0 lead in the third on Ryan Theriot's RBI double and Lee's RBI double.

In the Houston fourth, Miguel Tejada hit an RBI double and then scored on Geoff Blum's single down the right-field line. Rodriguez followed with his fifth homer of the season off a changeup to put the Astros ahead, 4-2.

"It was just one inning, and that's how it's been with me," Harden said. "My starts have had one inning where it's cost me. I felt really good early. I was throwing my offspeed for strikes, and it seems like that inning, it just got away from me."

Reliever Jose Ascanio hit the first two batters he faced in the Astros' seventh, and both scored -- one on Lance Berkman's RBI single and another on a wild pitch.

"I don't know what happened to Ascanio," Piniella said. "I've never seen that. First two pitches, two hit batters, and then a wild pitch a few pitches later. Then he settled down."

The Cubs, trying to stay close in the National League Central without Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano, finished the homestand at 4-1.

"It was a great homestand," Lee said, "We were getting a little greedy. We wanted that one today."

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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