Somewhere in the Houston suburbs, Phil Garner had to be tracking the developments at Astros Field.
When Memorial Day weekend began, it was the Cubs' Don Baylor on the proverbial hot seat. The pendulum of public pressure swung over to the Astros' Jimy Williams, then back to Baylor again after Sunday night's 7-5 loss, in which Baylor pulled Jason Bere with a shutout through six innings.
It was a sensible move given Bere's recent troubles. But it backfired horribly when Craig Biggio cashed in on seventh- and eighth-inning rallies against relievers Joe Borowski, Jeff Fassero and Pat Mahomes.
The Cubs had been poised for their first series sweep of the season but instead saw a five-game winning streak screech to a halt, falling back to 10 games below .500 at 19-29.
"We wanted to get the guy out with some confidence," Baylor said. "A 5-0 lead ... he could sit in the clubhouse and think about winning a ballgame. But we gave up seven runs."
It was worse than that, actually. The Cubs' bullpen gave up seven runs in two innings to a Houston team that had lost six games in a row, scoring no more than four runs in any of them.
"After we got ahead 2-0, [the Astros] seemed dead," said Fassero (1-3).
Before Houston cut the lead to 5-3 in the seventh, the crowd of 37,546 was booing Jeff Bagwell and his teammates. Their losing ways weren't what owner Drayton McLane had in mind when he fired Larry Dierker after winning four National League Central titles in the last five years.
Bere allowed only two runners to reach second base in his six innings. He had thrown only 87 pitches when Baylor pulled him for Borowski.
Bere, who is winless since April 12, declined to talk to reporters afterward. It was hard to know who he was the maddest withBaylor, the bullpen or the media?
Baylor cited Bere's pitch count as having "a lot to do" with pulling him. He also felt comfortable with the lead.
"It was the right score, 5-0," Baylor said. "We got two outs [in the eighth] and can't get it done. A leadoff walk [in the seventh], you name it."
Biggio's two-run double was the biggest of three hits off Borowski in the seventh, which began with him walking Morgan Ensberg.
With the lead down to 5-3, Fassero had two outs with one runner on. The next four Astros got singlesby Brad Ausmus and Geoff Blum off Fassero and by Jose Vizcaino and Biggio off Mahomes. Sammy Sosa twice overthrew the cutoff man on wild heaves to the plate, giving up extra bases that allowed Houston to take a 7-5 lead, not a 6-5 lead, into the ninth.
"The person I feel sorry for is J.B.," Fassero said. "He's struggled all year long. Tonight he threw well and we had a collapse in the bullpen."