Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Opportunity Knocks; Bucs Don't Answer In 4-2 Loss

Starling Marte singled and stole second to open the game against Jake Arrieta. Neil Walker, who has been hot as a firecracker, laid on down, we assume looking for a drag hit, and popped out. Cutch went the other way, flying out, and Justin Morneau hit one on the nose, but Starlin Castro made the play to end the frame.

The Cubs put up a run in the first off Francisco Liriano when Darwin Barney doubled (actually, a single and a Cutch bobble) with an out and came around on Anthony Rizzo's knock. The Bucs went down quietly in the second. Darnell McDonald opened with a double and went to third on a bouncer, but Frankie tightened up and K'ed the 8-9 hitters.

The Pirates had a little two out lightning strike in the third. Marte singled and stole second, and Bucs were on the corners after Walker's soft roller turned into an infield knock. Back-to-back walks of Cutch and Morneau tied the game. But Garrett Jones couldn't keep the good times going, rolling out to second.

Darwin yanked a grounder into left with an out, and the Pirates gave him second again when Tony Sanchez set up outside and couldn't glove a fastball inside for a passed ball, Rizzo grounded back to the box and off Liriano for an infield knock to put Cubs on the corners. Frankie rallied to whiff Murphy swinging on a 3-2 pitch, with Rizzo going to second, which was left uncovered by the Bucs, who opted to play straight up D. Junior lake popped out to keep the Cubs off the board, but The Cisco Kid isn't real sharp in the early going, and his pitch count is at 66 offerings.

The Cubs all but gave the Bucs a run in the fourth, but in Pirate fashion, they refused to take it. Pedro lined a ball off Castro's mitt for an E6, and the ball carried to the track. El Toro was in second, and when LF Lake bobbled the ball and then ho-hummed picking it back up and getting it in, allowing the hustling Pedro to easily storm into third. Tony Sanchez hit a soft flare to short for the first out, and after popping a suicide squeeze attempt foul, Clint Barmes lined to third; Murphy was a step from the bag and doubled up Pedro.

McDonald, who had two doubles coming into today's game, led off with his second two-base knock. He helped Frankie, though, when he was caught trying to go to third on a grounder to short and was easy pickings, 6-5. He whiffed JC Boscot and Arrieta again to keep it at 1-1.

With an out in the fifth, Marte was nicked by a pitch. After a fly out, he stole second, his thrid swipe of the game, but was left when Cutch hit a comebacker. Liriano was back on his game this frame, retiring the top of the Chicago order on nine pitches.

The Cubs keep trying to hand Pittsburgh the go ahead run, but just can't do it. Morneau led off with a single and got to second when the ball hit off a diving Lake (who is making the transition from SS to the outfield) and his throw missed the base, going all the way to first. Jones gave himself up with two strikes and moved him to third on a roller to first. With the infield in, Pedro hit a single hop to first, freezing Morneau, and Tony Sanchez went down looking. The Bucs are back to their old tricks, as they're 1-for-11 with RISP after just six innings.

Murphy singled through the left side to open the Cub half and stole second, then Lake drew a 3-2 walk. Frankie was at 100 pitches, but Clint Hurdle kept him in, even with the righty McDonald up, who already has two doubles. He smoked a 2-1 heater into the stands for his first HR of the season, and it was 4-1 Cubs. Vin Mazzaro came on a batter late to clean up the frame.

Justin Grimm put the Bucs away neatly in the seventh. Bryan Morris came on, and gave up a single, intentional walk and wild pitch, but kept the Cubbies off the board. Pedro Strop worked the eighth, giving up a two out single to Morneau but otherwise keeping the Bucco bats muted. Jeanmar Gomez worked a solid frame, allowing a runner when a ball got under Morneau's glove. Kevin Gregg took the ball for Chicago. With an out, Castro bobbled Tony Sanchez's roller, and it cost when JT followed with a triple to right center.  The Bucs had the tying run at the dish, but got no further. Marlon Byrd came up hacking and went down on strikes; Marte watched three balls at the knees on the outside black go by, and that was it.

The Bucs had every opportunity to make their road a little easier, but the things that frustrated fans during this playoff run popped back up: wasted runners (1-for13 with RISP, stranding a runner at third with less than two outs four times; four fly balls and the Bucs win) and a pitching change one batter late.

A day off, and then the last series against Cincinnati. Whoever takes two out of three is the home team for the one-and-done playoffs. AJ Burnett and Homer Bailey match up Friday in a key opening contest.

  • Marte is the first Pirate to steal three bases in a game since Cutch in 2010, and the first Buc to reach 40 swipes since Tony Womack in 1998 (he had 58).
  • In Pirate team history, the only players with 25+ 2B, 10+ 3B, 12+ HR, & 40+ SB in a season are Starling Marte, Kiki Cuyler (1925) and Jake Stenzel (1894).
  • The Pirates are 3-4 at GABP, splitting a four game set in June and losing 2-of-3 in July.
  • Francisco Liriano will almost certainly be the starter for the playoff game, unless Gerrit Cole doesn't go in the Red finale, which could happen if one team or the other takes the first two games.
  • St. Louis swept the Nats 4-1 and the Mets beat the Reds 1-0 at GABP. The Pirates had a golden opportunity to just need one win at Cincy to clinch a home playoff game; now they need to take 2-of-3. St. Louis is all but in; they finish with the Cubs, and the only way the Pirates can take the division is to have the Redbirds lose all three while they sweep Cincinnati, eliminated from the title chase today. And even that would result in a one-game tiebreaker game, not an outright crown, though it would be played in Pittsburgh.

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