For the second straight game Thursday, the Cubs suffered a walk-off loss, and for the second straight game, it was Houston's Geoff Blum who delivered the game-winning hit in a 2-1 Astros win.
It was the fifth extra-inning game out of eight on the three-city road trip, and the Cubs finished 4-4. In the 88 innings on the junket, they outscored their opponents, 28-21, and all four losses were by one run.
"How many extra games did we play?" a frustrated Lou Piniella said after the game. "It seems to me like we played 13 games on this road trip."
Nobody seems to have an answer for the collective hitting funk that has the team struggling to hit .248.
"They're going to have to find the answers on the field," Piniella said. "That's the bottom line. It sounds cruel, it sounds harsh, but it's reality."
The Cubs have had to cope with the loss of clutch hitter Aramis Ramirez, who's not expected back until early July, but there isn't that much turnover from the club that led the National League in hits.
"What am I going to do?" Piniella said. "Just keep running them out there and hope it gets better."
The road trip ended on a sour note. Ryan Dempster gave up one run on seven hits over seven innings, the 12th time in 13 starts this year he's gone at least six innings. Derrek Lee tied the game at 1 with a one-out home run in the ninth, but they had chances before that.
In the second, Chicago had runners at first and third with one out, and Koyie Hill hit into a double play. In the sixth, they had runners again at first and third, with none out, and the Nos. 2-3-4 hitters were unable to drive them in.
"We really did nothing," Piniella said. "When we had chances, we're swinging at bad pitches out of the zone, can't make contact. Come on. This is Major League Baseball. I know the game isn't the easiest to play because I played it for a long time, but it's not this [darn] hard.
"It's a different game to play because it's every day," he said. "It's got to be mental, you've got to have toughness, you have to be able to think, you have to have ability, but at the same time, you make it too hard."
Hunter Pence scored from second on Blum's walk-off single with two outs in the 13th for the game-winner. Jose Ascanio (0-1) had walked Pence, and he stole second as Jason Michaels struck out swinging. Lance Berkman was intentionally walked to set up Blum, who hit a walk-off RBI single Wednesday.
The Cubs had runners at first and third in the 10th, but LaTroy Hawkins got pinch-hitter Reed Johnson to pop up to Berkman, who was able to reach over the railing of the Astros' dugout to grab the ball.
In the three-game series at Minute Maid Park, the Cubs stranded 31.
"It comes down to we're not hitting, period," Lee said. "It's been a struggle for us, especially on the road. We went .500 on this trip and it feels like it was worse than that. We have to get our confidence back and relax a little more at the plate."
How do they do that?
"Get a hit," Lee said. "We have to make it turn around. We can't wait for it to turn around."
"We're playing good baseball," Piniella said. "I've said all along that for us to win with consistency, we have to hit better. That's all there is to it."
Piniella doesn't believe Milton Bradley will finish at .209, or that Soriano will stay at .237, or that Lee won't pick up the pace. If that's true, these guys have one very hot streak ahead of them.
"It's been a challenge this year," Piniella said. "Any time we don't play what you would classify a perfect game or near perfect game, it becomes magnified. But you can't play those games every day. Nobody's that good.
"We're capable of being a better offense," he said. "For us to stay in this race, to win this division, we're going to have to swing the bats a whole lot better from now until the end of the season."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.