Rookie Esmailin Caridad walked Ramon Hernandez with the bases loaded to force in the tiebreaking run and help the Reds win, 3-1, and drop the Cubs to 2-4 on their first road trip.
In five of the Cubs' first six games, they've gotten quality starts from their pitchers. But the offense has scuffled, and Chicago heads to Wrigley Field for the home opener on Monday batting .197 as a team. The team stranded 12 baserunners in the three-game series against Atlanta and left 25 in three games against Cincinnati.
"April is funny," Derrek Lee said. "It seems like you either score 15 a day or one, and then you find that rhythm and find your true team. Hopefully, this past week isn't indicative of how it's going to be. I don't think so. I think we're too good for that."
The problem isn't hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Lee said.
"We didn't score runs last year either, so they should probably point the finger at us," Lee said. "The hitting coach can't hit for us. We have to find a way to get it done."
Sunday marked the debut of Reds wunderkind Mike Leake, 22, who was pitching at Arizona State University last year. He's the 21st player since the First-Year Player Draft began in 1965 to play in the big leagues without appearing in a Minor League game.
The Cubs had Leake on the ropes early, as Ryan Theriot walked to lead off, Kosuke Fukudome doubled and Lee walked to load the bases. But Leake retired the next three to escape the mess.
Chicago entered the game having scored 12 of its 17 total runs on homers, but it found another way in the fifth. Theriot, questionable for the game because of a tight right calf, walked, advanced on a sacrifice by Fukudome and scored on Lee's single.
"We had him on the ropes," Lee said of Leake. "Bases loaded, no outs -- most of the time, we're going to score. Give him credit, he didn't fold."
"That was the key to the game today," Alfonso Soriano said. "First inning, bases loaded, no outs, we have to do a better job."
The Reds had two on and none out when skipper Lou Piniella took a long, slow walk to the mound to check on starter Tom Gorzelanny in the seventh. Gorzelanny stayed, and got Jonny Gomes to loft the ball to left. It should've been caught, but Soriano misplayed it for an error.
"I saw it all the way," Soriano said. "But at the last moment, I took my eyes off the ball and just thought about the wall. At the last moment, I lost concentration and thought about the wall."
With the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo gently smacked the ball past Sean Marshall for an infield hit, and Scott Rolen scored from third to tie the game.
With the game locked at 1 in the eighth against John Grabow (0-2), Orlando Cabrera and Brandon Phillips each singled and Rolen walked to load the bases. Grabow was lifted for Caridad, who was tabbed the Cubs' prime right-handed setup pitcher early in Spring Training. The rookie walked Hernandez to drive in Cabrera, and Gomes followed with a sacrifice fly.
The Cubs could've easily been 5-1 on this trip. Gorzelanny deserved better. He was charged with one unearned run on four hits and two walks over 6 1/3 innings, while striking out seven.
"I think everybody wants to get home and relax," Soriano said. "I think everybody will be happy to get home tonight and rest and start again tomorrow."
The National League Central-rival Milwaukee Brewers come to town now.
"I know we're not off to the start we want," Lee said, "but one good homestand could turn it around. Our pitching has been great. If we score runs, our record would be completely different. We have to find a way to swing the bats better."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.