The Cubs were hoping to finish off a sweep of the Reds on Wednesday night – Rich Harden had had 3 straight good starts, while Reds’ starter Justin Lehr (age 32) was making only his 2nd start at the major league level, so it looked like a forgone conclusion that the Cubs would win and take over sole possession of 1st place in the NL Central over the St. Louis Cardinals who had lost to the Mets earlier in the day. But it wasn’t meant to be, as Lehr pitched his 1st ever shutout on any professional level, limiting the Cubs to just 4 hits and 1 walks over the 9 frames. It was Lehr’s 1st win since May 2006. Not good Cubs fans.
Rich Harden, meanwhile, got into trouble in the 3rd inning when he gave up a single to Brandon Phillips and then a 2-run bomb to the recently-acquired Scott Rolen, his 1st hit as a Reds player. Harden prolonged the inning by trying to force out a runner at 3rd base with the pitcher at the plate, but he threw the ball away allowing a 3rd run to score. Fortunately, Harden was able to strike out Willy Taveras and Joey Votto without any further damage, but the 3 runs would be all that Lehr and the Reds would need.
At the plate, the Cubs looked clueless. Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano each had singles off of Lehr, and Harden had the Cubs only extra base hit – a double with 2 outs in the 5th inning.
Jeff Samardzija had a rough 7th inning – giving up a leadoff single to Willy Taveras who stole 2nd and 3rd bases easily and scored on Alex Gonzalez’ sacrifice fly.
The loss denied the Cubs the chance to reach 10 games over .500 for the 1st time all season. Oh well. At least they are still tied with the Cardinals for 1st place. The only bad news – the Cards next 6 games are at home against the lowly Pirates and Reds, while the Cubs are on the road for 4 games against the Rockies in Colorado (the wild card leader) and then at Wrigley Field for 3 games against the Philadelphia Phillies (the NL East leader).
The lone bright spot, Closer Kevin Gregg pitched a perfect 8th inning with 1 strikeout. Gregg had been nursing a “tired arm” after blowing save chances in his last 2 appearances by giving up 5 ER and 6 hits in his last 1 1/3 innings of work.