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Carlos Marmol spoils Carlos Zambrano’s stellar effort in Cubs loss

Cubs manager Mike Quade gathers infield together mound during Astros 6-run 9th inning as Chicago Cubs lost  HoustAstros Tuesday

Cubs manager Mike Quade gathers the infield together at the mound during the Astros 6-run 9th inning as the Chicago Cubs lost to the Houston Astros Tuesday May 31, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 11, 2011 12:22AM

Another page has turned on the Cubs’ calendar, and nobody noticed.

Well, maybe a few of the people who booed in the ninth inning when the last-place Houston Astros were circling the bases during a six-run rally off of closer Carlos Marmol that dealt the Cubs an embarrassing 7-3 loss Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Otherwise, the season slipped into June a lot like it slipped into April and May — and now slips fast toward oblivion with four losses in the last five games, all against division also-rans Pittsburgh and Houston.

What’s that make the Cubs?

‘‘I’m not even sure I know who this team is yet,’’ manager Mike Quade said, ‘‘given the amount of roster moves and stuff. . . .  We’ve been an inconsistent club for a lot of reasons, and health is one of them, that’s for sure.’’

And still, this was on a night the Cubs got one of Carlos Zambrano’s most powerful starts, took the lead with three runs in the eighth and then sent one of the best closers in the National League to the mound in the ninth.

‘‘It happens to Mariano Rivera. It happens to Joe Nathan. It happens to the best of the best,’’ said Zambrano, who consoled a dispirited Marmol in the clubhouse after the game.

‘‘I told him, just keep your head up, tomorrow’s another day,’’ Zambrano said.

‘‘Everybody did that with me,’’ Marmol said. ‘‘I appreciate that. It means a lot. . . . Today’s over. We lost. I lost. Tomorrow hopefully I get another save situation.’’

And chances are he’ll convert it.

But that’s the thing. When the Cubs squander Zambrano’s effort against the woeful Astros after already being knocked silly for the last two months, how much does tomorrow’s save matter?

Especially considering it’s only a matter of time before the next multi-error game by the worst-fielding team in the NL or the next clunker start by the rotation with the worst ERA in the majors?

On a night when the formula worked for eight innings, the Cubs still hit their low-water mark of seven games under .500 — putting them two games behind fourth-place Pittsburgh and just three out of last in what’s starting to look like a race with Houston.

They’re 7-15 against National League Central opponents, with losing records against all five.

Before breaking through in the eighth, the Cubs were stymied for seven innings by Jordan Lyles — a kid making his major-league debut after a 20-29 minor-league career.

No wonder Zambrano splintered his bat over his knee after striking out in the fifth inning to strand a runner at third.

‘‘I don’t like that,’’ Quade said. ‘‘I’m glad he’s OK. I get his frustration, but he can do something else. I cringe because he can hurt himself.’’

‘‘I work hard. My legs are strong,’’ said Zambrano, who was upset at himself because he missed a hanging breaking ball he thought he should have hit. ‘‘It’s nothing to worry about. If you want to see how I can break bats over my legs, come back tomorrow and watch me lift weights.’’

But what about the manager’s concern?

‘‘What manager?’’ Zambrano said.

Maybe the identity crisis runs deeper than we thought.

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