Cubs 5, Brewers 9

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Rich Harden didn't help his resume on Wednesday night.

A free agent after this season, Harden served up five runs on 71 pitches over three innings in the Cubs' 9-5 loss to the Brewers.

He's trying not to look at each start as an audition for next year.

"You try not to think about that," Harden said. "Either way, I still have to go out and do my job, and I didn't do that today. I've got three starts left here, and I've got to get it done."

It wasn't the right-hander's shortest outing of the season. He lasted two innings against the Brewers on July 4, giving up seven runs in that start. Harden (9-9) has forced the Cubs to go to the bullpen early and often because of his high pitch counts, and this was the fourth consecutive start in which he failed to go beyond five innings.

"He wasn't sharp at all," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

The problem recently has been command.

"That's kind of been the issue the last few starts, is just command, getting ahead of hitters, executing pitches when I need to," Harden said. "I left the changeup up a little bit today and got some ground balls, but they were finding the right holes and getting through. I had the approach of not trying to do too much and putting the ball in play. It was a bad outing."

Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer, his 13th of the season, in the fifth off Braden Looper (13-6), but it wasn't enough to help Harden, who is 3-8 at Wrigley Field. Piniella said he may give the right-hander an extra day of rest.

"I've got some work to do," Harden said. "This is not what I wanted to do here late in the season. The team's been playing pretty well, and we need to win games. Next time out will be better."

On the plus side, it was Harden's 26th start, the most he's made in a season since a career-high 31 in 2004 with Oakland.

Alcides Escobar drove in three runs for Milwaukee. The Brewers took advantage of an error by Ramirez to load the bases with no outs in the second, and they tallied on Casey McGehee's sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Escobar smacked a two-run single to make it 5-0.

"The big pitch was the two-strike pitch to the shortstop," Piniella said of Harden's offering to Escobar. "[Harden] could've gotten out of that inning there without giving up the five runs. We were still in the ballgame, 3-0. He threw two good changeups to him, and with two strikes, got one up in the zone and the guy blooped it into center field, and that was that."

Pinch-hitter Aaron Miles, batting for Harden, singled to lead off the Chicago third and reached second on Ryan Theriot's double. Kosuke Fukudome hit a sacrifice fly and Derrek Lee notched RBI No. 102 of the season with a single to close to 5-2.

But Felipe Lopez greeted rookie David Patton with a single in the fourth, and one batter later, advanced when catcher Geovany Soto tried to pick up the ball with his mask. That's a violation, according to Rule 7.05 (j), which prohibits players from touching a pitched ball with their "cap, mask or any part of the uniform detached from its proper place on his person." Ryan Braun followed with a RBI single to put Milwaukee ahead 6-2.

"I've never seen that before," Ramirez said of the Soto play.

"I don't think Soto knew the rule. I'll be honest with you," Piniella said. "We told him he couldn't use his helmet either, just to make sure."

The Cubs, who matched the Brewers with 13 hits, have picked up the offense recently.

"We've been swinging the bats much better and putting some runs up," Theriot said. "It's one of those things where you've got to figure out a way to win one way or another. Tonight we scored a few runs, and we needed to score a few more."

Besides Harden, the Cubs other free agents include Reed Johnson, Kevin Gregg and John Grabow. It's too early to look ahead, Piniella said. The Cubs haven't been mathematically eliminated yet.

"I think we can still do this thing if we continue to win ballgames," Theriot said. "We'll see what happens."

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