Mark Prior pitched his best game of the season. Still, he couldn't stop the Chicago Cubs' final-week slump that has damaged their chances of making the postseason.
"It's not from a lack of preparation. It's not from a lack of trying. It just hasn't worked out. I don't have a philosophical quote about it. We lost," Prior said yesterday after the loose and pressure-free Cincinnati Reds beat the Cubs in 12 innings for the second straight day at Wrigley Field.
Chicago fell for the fifth time in six games and dropped a game behind San Francisco and idle Houston for the NL wild card with three games left.
Javier Valentin hit a two-out double in the 12th to give Cincinnati a 2-1 victory, wasting Prior's stellar nine-inning effort in which he tied his career high with 16 strikeouts.
"I think we all know where we're at right now," Prior said. "I could care less about me personally. It's not about me."
It's mainly about the Cubs' offense -- or lack of it.
Chicago had the bases loaded three times and didn't score, and stranded 12 runners.
"It's tough to lose two 12-inning games in a row, especially when we had opportunities to win the game," a dejected Cubs Manager Dusty Baker said.
"It's tough to lose like this down the stretch."
Adam Dunn, who earlier broke Bobby Bonds's major league record for strikeouts in a single season when he fanned in his first two at-bats, singled in the 12th off Mike Remlinger (1-2). Dunn stole second and moved to third on a grounder before Valentin doubled to right off Kyle Farnsworth.
"We beat these guys. We won three out of four and, here in Chicago, that is tough," Valentin said.
"Obviously it's tough on them and the town, but we can't come in here and just roll over," said Cincinnati's Austin Kearns, the hero in Wednesday's 4-3 win, who came back and homered off Prior yesterday.
Chicago loaded the bases for the third time in the 11th, but Juan Padilla (1-0) escaped by striking out Michael Barrett.
* GIANTS 4, PADRES 1: Jerome Williams pitched seven strong innings in his first start in two months and visiting San Francisco jumped back into a tie for the wild-card lead.
The Giants (89-70) tied the idle Astros in the wild-card race and are one game ahead of the Cubs (88-71). The Giants trail the Dodgers by three games in the NL West. San Francisco and Los Angeles end the season with three games this weekend at Dodger Stadium.
The Padres, playing their home finale, were pushed to the brink of elimination, falling three games back in the wild-card race with three to play.
* DODGERS 4, ROCKIES 2: David Ross hit a two-run homer with two outs in the 11th inning to give Los Angeles a win at home.
With the victory, the Dodgers clinched at least a tie for first place in the NL West.
* BREWERS 7, CARDINALS 6: Matt Morris struggled in his final tuneup for the playoffs, and visiting Milwaukee send the NL Central champions to their first four-game losing streak of the season.
* PHILLIES 7, MARLINS 4: Pat Burrell went 4 for 4, including a tiebreaking two-run single in host Philadelphia's six-run seventh inning, helping the Phillies rally.