Baker Remains Upbeat Despite Poor Play

Dusty Baker insists that a recent string of heartbreaking ninth-inning losses will not get his team down.

"This will make us stronger," the Cubs' manager said. "We had a lot of energy and a lot of fight. These games will make us stronger, and it's certainly not going to break us."

The first heartbreaker came on Wednesday when Roberto Novoa walked in the winning run with the bases loaded in a 4-3 loss to Milwaukee at Miller Park.

The second came the next day, after the Cubs had knotted the game at 5-5 in the top of the ninth on an Aramis Ramirez homer. In the bottom of the inning, the Brewers scored on an infield hit, a sacrifice and a blooper to right off LaTroy Hawkins.

The Cubs came home Friday and were hoping their luck would turn around.

Derrek Lee hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead over Philadelphia. But trouble struck again in the top of the ninth when the Phillies loaded the bases with one out.

Hawkins caught a line drive back to the mound and tried to double up a runner off first, but he threw the ball away, allowing two runs to score.

The Cubs are slumping, and the Cardinals are threatening to run away with the National League Central as they did in 2004.

"It's too early (to panic) until you are out of it," right fielder Jeromy Burnitz said. "That's the way I'm going to choose to roll with it. All it takes is a roll. That's not to say it's definitely going to happen, but that's what it takes."

Hawkins blew his third save opportunity in the loss on Friday.

The Cubs have had plenty of problems in the bullpen, and after Sunday's 2-1 win, it was announced that RHP Ryan Dempster will take over as closer temporarily.

Baker temporarily demoted Hawkins in April and used Chad Fox as closer, but Fox injured his elbow and Hawkins returned to the role. Fox (right ulnar nerve injury) will have to wait three or four weeks until it's determined whether he needs another surgery on the elbow. He's had three surgeries on it already.

Following the losses on Wednesday and Thursday in Milwaukee, Baker focused on staying positive.

"You can't cry over spilled milk because then you never clean it up; all you do is just cry over it," Baker said. "You've got to clean it up and keep a positive attitude. We were in every game. Our guys don't like it, none of us like it.

"Everybody's going to go through a bad streak. The key is to remain positive; don't panic. I'd rather do it now than at the end of the season."

LF Todd Hollandsworth was thrown out of Thursday's game against Milwaukee for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Rob Drake. It's the fourth time a Cubs player has been ejected this year. Carlos Zambrano was ejected twice and center fielder Corey Patterson was kicked out of Tuesday night's game for throwing a helmet near umpire Bob Davidson.

Patterson was in line for a suspension after the rare outburst. He thought he was safe on a play, and the umpire called him out. He threw his helmet in Davidson's direction and was ejected.

Afterward, Patterson said it was the first time he ever was ejected from a game on any level.

"I just hope the punishment isn't too hard," Baker said. "That shocked me. I think that shocked everybody in the house. I talked to our fitness guy (Tim Buss), and he's known Corey since Class A ball and he said that's the first time he's ever seen that.

"A lot of quiet guys -- when they snap, they snap pretty good. They hold it in for so long. I was always told, 'Beware of the quiet ones.' "

Nomar Garciaparra (ruptured tendon in his left groin) joined the team for the first time since a May 27 surgery and said he will have to wait four weeks before he can begin rehabbing.

2B Todd Walker (left knee strain) worked out at second base on Friday and said he hoped to start rehabbing this week.

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