The Chicago Cubs need it. Their grip on the NL Central became shaky Wednesday night, when they were shut out over the final 5 2/3 innings and lost for the second night in a row to the last-place Florida Marlins, 7-4.
There was good news an hour later from Milwaukee, where St. Louis beat the second-place Brewers 7-3. That left the Cubs' lead at two games and reduced to three their magic number for clinching the division, with four games left in the regular season.
But the Cubs acknowledged they're not making it easy.
"Maybe we're pressing a little bit," said DeRosa, who committed a throwing error in the Marlins' three-run second inning. "I'd like to think we're not playing tight, but maybe there are some circumstances where we are. We have to realize we're still in first place."
In the wake of Chicago's loss Tuesday, players patiently endured a fresh round of questions about the franchise's history of collapses. They then failed to build on an early lead against Marlins rookie Daniel Barone, who remained winless in six starts but left with the score 4-all.
"It was a bad ballgame from us," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We've got to play better than that if we want to go forward."
Piniella delivered a brief clubhouse pep talk after the game. The message?
"Relax and have fun," center fielder Jacque Jones said. "We control our own destiny. Just go out and play."
The series is reminiscent of 2003, when Florida rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit and beat the Cubs in the NL Championship Series. One difference: The 2007 Marlins began the night tied with Pittsburgh for the league's worst record.
"The Cubs are looking to roll over us, and we're not letting them do it," said Lee Gardner, who pitched the ninth. "They came in looking for a couple of easy wins, and we're not giving in."
Florida beat Chicago for the ninth game in a row over the past two seasons. That tied for the longest active streak between two major league clubs.
"We haven't had success against this team," Piniella said. "They've got our number. They feel nice and comfortable against the Cubbies."
The announced crowd was 19,051, with at least two-thirds cheering for the Cubs. They were mostly quietly in the late innings because seven Florida relievers combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings.
Jason Marquis (12-9) lost for the first time since Aug. 26. He allowed five runs, four earned, in five innings.
Jones drove in three runs with a single and a sacrifice fly for the Cubs, who came from behind twice before their offense stalled. DeRosa hit a double and triple and scored twice, and Derrek Lee hit his 21st homer.
For the second night in a row, breaks went against Chicago. Hermida's run-scoring single landed barely fair, and just before Lee's homer, Soriano was doubled off first on a close call they disputed. DeRosa and pinch hitter Matt Murton flied out to the warning track with runners on.
"Sometimes the breaks just don't go your way," Marquis said.
He retired the first two batters in the fifth before Florida broke a 4-all tie. Todd Linden doubled, and after Piniella paid a visit to the mound, Marquis gave up an RBI single to Treanor.
"I asked him how he was feeling," Piniella said. "He said he felt really good. I figured I'd give him a chance. It just didn't happen." Perhaps the best news for the Cubs is that they have only one game left against nemesis Florida. Steve Trachsel is scheduled to pitch for Chicago against Scott Olsen.
"We'll beat these guys tomorrow," Piniella said, "and go from there."
- Barone has an ERA of 8.53 in six starts, and his ERA in 10 games as a reliever is 1.15.
- Soriano threw out Hermida and Treanor trying to stretch run-scoring hits to left into doubles.