The Cubs knew Ryan Dempster would be a little rusty and his pitch location would be off after a 3 1/2-week layoff. His toe was fine Tuesday. His fastball wasn't.
Miguel Tejada drove in five runs, including two on his ninth homer, and Geoff Blum hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh to lift the Houston Astros to an 11-6 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday night.
Dempster, making his first start since July 2, struggled through five innings. He'd been sidelined after breaking his right big toe when he jumped over the railing in front of the Cubs' dugout to celebrate a win on July 5. He took the stairs on Tuesday.
"He gave it his best shot," Lou Piniella said. "He just wasn't sharp."
"I felt good going into the game," Dempster said. "I felt ready. I just didn't do a very good job today. I didn't do a good job of inning management."
Take the third. The Astros had a 2-0 lead after Tejada's sacrifice fly in the first and Jeff Keppinger's RBI single in the third. They had runners at first and third, none out, and Tejada bounced a comebacker to Dempster, who threw to second for the force. But shortstop Ryan Theriot couldn't get his glove on the ball and a run scored on the throwing error.
"I had a runner at first and third and none out, down 2-0, and not only do I not get the guy at home, but I throw the ball into center field," Dempster said. "I put us in a hole, and the guys kept fighting back. We scored three and I give up a two-run home run on my third-best pitch [to Tejada].
"It was frustrating. It was by no means my best performance, that's for sure. It was disappointing, too. We played 13 innings [Monday] and I knew I was on a shorter pitch count and I wanted to give the bullpen a break and you feel like you let those guys down."
The Cubs wanted to limit Dempster to 80-85 pitches. He finished with 85.
On the Tejada play, Cubs catcher Koyie Hill was yelling at Dempster to throw home, but the pitcher spun and tried to get the runner at second.
"I should've known to go home," Dempster said. "If you're winning there by a run or two, the smart play is get a double play and get out of the inning. It was just bad baseball."
Blum smacked the go-ahead shot off Angel Guzman (2-2) with two outs in the seventh, and Keppinger added a two-run triple in the eighth. The Cubs had tied the game at 6 in the fifth on Aramis Ramirez's three-run homer, which extended his hitting streak to six games.
With the loss, the Cubs fell a half-game behind the St. Louis Cardinals -- who beat the Dodgers, 10-0 -- in the National League Central. Tuesday's crowd of 40,814 in the 50th home game pushed season total to 2,006,801, matching the club record for fewest games need to get to 2 million.
Dempster's injury was hard to believe. How could a player break his toe climbing over a fence? But something nearly as bizarre happened in the Chicago fifth.
Kosuke Fukudome led off the inning with a one-hopper to Houston's Jeff Fulchino, and the ball bounced into the pitcher's jersey. Not quite the hidden-ball trick, but it worked for the Cubs, as Fukudome was credited with a hit. One out later, Derrek Lee walked and Ramirez followed with his eighth homer.
"I've never seen that play before," Piniella said. "Never in my life. The guy was looking for the ball. I had no clue where it was. Usually you see it stuck in his [glove] web or something, but it was in his uniform. Now, how do you throw the uniform off?
Fukudome had never seen that either, in Japan or the U.S.
"I couldn't see the ball and thought he caught it," Fukudome said. "Then, I understand it was inside his shirt."
Maybe Fulchino was wearing a double-XL, and it was a little baggy.
"He might be wearing XL tomorrow," Fukudome said.
It'll be interesting to see who's available in the Cubs' bullpen on Wednesday in Game 3 of this four-game series. A 13-inning game Monday and Dempster's abbreviated outing have forced Piniella to dip into the 'pen often.
"We'll try to go out there and win a ballgame," Piniella said. "That's all we can do."