The first inning was easy as pie; J-Mac set the Cubbies down in order, and Rodrigo Lopez did the same to the Pirates. The Chicago nine went down without a peep in the second; so did the Bucs, although they have hit three at 'em balls already.
Well, something has to give, right? It did quickly enough when Geovany Soto drilled a fastball over the wall in left, his eleventh of the season, to put the Cubbies up. McDonald got back to dealing and put the other baby Bruins away.
Xavier Paul got the first Bucco hit, a rope to center. He was gunned down trying to steal second, so that kinda negated the knock. Brandon Wood walked and J-Mac laid one down to move him up a station. McCutch bounced out to short, and the string of zips continued.
J-Mac put down the first two Cubs routinely before Carlos Pena jacked his 21st bomb over the center field wall on a first pitch heater. Marlon Byrd rolled one into left for a single, followed by Blake DeWitt's third homer of the year to right. Ouch. 4-0 Chicago, and the good guys need to circle their wagons in a hurry.
And hey, guess what? They did. Garrett Jones rapped a double, went to third on a Neil Walker bouncer and came home when Ryan Ludwick collected his first Pirate hit, a grounder through the middle. Pedro rolled another one through the right side, and Dewey lined one to right to load the bases.
Paul hit into a force out, scoring Ludwick, and Wood walked after falling behind 0-2. It would be a big at bat when McDonald came to his own rescue by rapping a double into left center that cleared the bases, his first three career MLB RBI. It was even nicer when McCutch hit another gapper to make it 6-4 after four.
J-Mac did what they teach you in pitching school; he shut the Cubs down in order in the fifth to keep Big Mo in Black and Gold. Ramon Ortiz came on for Lopez, and his one out walk to Ludwick was rectified by a Pedro 3-6-3 DP.
Alvarez wasn't having such a hot inning; he muffed a one out grounder by A-Ram. But McDonald got a pair of grounders to finish off Chicago in the sixth. Ortiz, with his 7+ ERA, retired the first two Pirates before Wood legged out an infield knock to the shortstop hole. McDonald drove another to center, but Byrd had this one measured. The Bucs failed to add on - heck, to make any noise - in two frames against a struggling middle guy.
J-Mac got DeWitt on a fly, and Soto was ahead 2-0 when he helped McDonald by swinging at balls three and four, bouncing back to the box. Tyler Colvin flew out to right, and even with 99 pitches, J-Mac's heater was hitting 94 MPH.
Jeff Samardzija took the hill for Chi-Town. After getting McCutch on a bouncer, Jones took a two strike, 99 MPH hummer the opposite way, doubling into left. Seeing nothing but gas, Walker went down swinging at a soft - 87 MPH - cutter. Ludwick flew out to right, and the Bucs had six outs to hold on.
J-Mac was gone. He went seven innings, giving up four runs on four hits with three walks and K's. D-Mac took the mound in his stead.
He got ahead of Reed Johnson 0-2, and left a changeup on the outside corner that Johnson poked softly into right for a single. Starlin Castro lined a belt high heater into center to put runners at first and second. Darwin Barney went up looking for the bunt; he fouled off a pair, and on a 2-2 pitch, got barely nipped by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
That brought on Jason Grilli to face A-Ram. Ramirez is a notorious first ball hitter; Grilli threw a heater on his hands for a swinging strike. Unfortunately, the next fastball was above the belt and down the middle of the plate, and A-Ram lined it into center to bring home a run.
The pitching wheels continued to spin; Joe Beimel came on to match against Pena. He worked the count full, and then missed badly downstairs with a slider to walk in the tying run. A blooper with two strikes, a hit batter with two strikes, a walk with two strikes...now it was Jose Veras' turn. We can't say that Clint Hurdle's mix of pitchers has been particularly brilliant, but their performance wasn't much to write home about, either.
Marlon Byrd banged a two-strike curve into fairly deep left; it brought home a run and A-Ram tagged too when the throw went to the cutoff man between the bases rather than third base. Dewitt popped out and Soto went down swinging, but the Cubs were back on top 7-6.
James Russell took the ball for the Cubs. Pedro bounced out, but Dewey got the ball rolling with a liner to left on a two strike slider. Matt Diaz came up to hit for Xavier Paul, and the Cubs went to Kerry Wood; we guess Hurdle likes the Diaz-Wood matchup better than the potential Paul-Sean Marshall pairing. He shouldn't have; Wood painted the black and K'ed Diaz looking; he only took a hack at one pitch. Wood flew out to center, and it remained 7-6 going into the ninth.
Hanny came on to work the ninth. Alfonso Soriano K'ed swinging. Hanrahan tried to get Johnson on a two strike slider; he hung it and Johnson placed a ball up the middle that Walker got to, but had no play on. Castro grounded one to Pedro, and he started an around the horn DP. It's do or die time against Carlos Marmol.
Steve Pearce gave the fans a brief thrill, but his long fly was hauled down in the deepest part of the Notch, 400+' away. McCutch K'ed swinging at a slider; he took three cuts and didn't even get a foul off Marmol's stuff. Jones caught a 2-2 slider and sent it deep into straight center; it was run down at the wall at the 399' mark.
The Pirate bullpen has been out of whack ever since the Atlanta series. The overload of innings was part of the problem; protecting Hanrahan and going a man short was another. Evan Meek is thought to be at least three, maybe four weeks away from returning, so the FO's failure to land an eighth inning set up guy didn't help the cause. But they've got who they've got.
Clint Hurdle may have to reconsider the way he uses Hanny. Tonight, for example, the meat of the Cub order was due up in the eighth. That seemed to be the spot that you'd like Hanrahan to come in, best against best, with Veras or D-Mac on hand (Resop and Watson were unavailable because of their prior workload) to face the bottom of the order in the ninth. Now Hanny has pitched in three losing causes, and after those three days of work is probably out for tomorrow.
We know the skipper is a true believer that a closer closes, but with the pen in disarray, he may have to start maneuvering his pieces a little more efficiently instead of being so orthodox. He said after the game that he was trying to set up a four-out save opportunity for Hanrahan; maybe he should forget the concept of a save and think of the win.
Hey, he's not the only manager that's locked into that mindset, and up until Atlanta, it worked just fine. But you have to go with the flow, and the Bucs still have six more games before they get a day off.
And lets not forget that while the Pirates had the one big inning, the Chicago bullpen tossed five scoreless frames of three hit ball afterward. Adding on a run or two would have made a huge difference. So just as there are team wins, tonight was a true team loss, and a brutal one at that. As resilient as Pittsburgh has been all year, it'll be hard to not carry this one around.
San Diego's Aaron Harang takes on Jeff Karstens tomorrow night.
- Pittsburgh's seven game losing streak is their longest of the season; they had an epic 12 game losing string last year.
- J-Mac snapped a string of 24 straight starts without lasting seven innings dating back to September 2010.
- McCutch now has a 29 game on-base streak against Chicago.
- The Bucs drew 29,317 to the game.
- Derrek Lee's hand swelled some overnight after being hit by a pitch. He's day-to-day, and wasn't available tonight, even to pinch hit.