In the immortal, clichéd words of Jack Brickhouse, the Cubs came up "a day late and a dollar short" Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Remember that? If you're of "a certain age", you do, because there were innumerable Cubs games in the 1960s and 1970s that wound up just as Saturday's 7-6 loss to the Pirates did -- a furious ninth-inning rally that ended with a groundout, or a popup, or like this one, with a strikeout with the tying and winning runs on base.
After which, the opposing manager would pay lip service to the Cubs, saying "They never stop coming at you", or some such platitude, while another win went to the visitors. While Dave Sappelt was batting with the bases loaded, two out and the Cubs one run down against Joel Hanrahan, I had visions of 1970s Pirates closer Kent Tekulve facing Tim Hosley. Sappelt's likely to have as much impact on the Chicago Cubs' future as Hosley did -- that is, essentially none.
I'll give the Cubs credit -- they scored a pair of runs off Hanrahan, who's been a pretty good closer most of this season, drawing three walks in the inning and getting two hits, including a pop-fly double leading off the inning by Joe Mather on which Andrew McCutchen made a rare bad play. Alfonso Soriano, who four different times came to the plate where, with one swing, he could have reached both the 30 HR and 100 RBI milestones, singled him in for his 99th RBI (he had his 98th earlier in the game).
A couple of outs and a couple of walks later, the Cubs had the bases filled with a strange collection of baserunners -- Tony Campana (running for Soriano), Jeff Samardzija (running for Welington Castillo, who had walked), and Luis Valbuena (who had also walked). Sappelt had a pretty good at-bat, but Hanrahan struck him out on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball. Credit to Hanrahan.
Now, a little about the rest of the game, played on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the mid-70s and low humidity. Ah, if only it could be like this in Chicago every day...
Jason Berken had the sort of game I'd have expected a Baltimore Orioles waive-ee to have. Four innings, eight hits allowed, a home run given to Andrew McCutchen, a hit batter, and three unearned runs given up in the fourth inning when Josh Vitters made a throwing error on a Clint Barmes grounder leading off the inning. Two more groundouts would have ended the frame, but with the error, the inning continued, and four straight Pirates hits made the score 6-1 after four.
The Cubs chipped away; just about everyone got into the act at one point or another, and that's a good thing -- the offense not dependent on home runs, which are rare enough for Cubs hitters these days. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Sappelt all joined Soriano with two hits each; Castro bumped his batting average up to .283, and now has 164 hits. He won't get to 200 this season, but he is now hitting .388/.444/.612 in his last 12 games. That includes six doubles and a home run -- a good sign for next season.
The Cubs bullpen did a decent job, allowing just one run in five innings; that was a home run by Clint Barmes off Alberto Cabrera, who was pitching for the first time in front of his mother, visiting from the Dominican Republic. It didn't seem to mean much at the time -- simply extending the Pirates' lead to 7-3 -- but as it turned out, that was the decisive run, and the Cubs dropped to 13-25 in one-run games.
Before the game, top prospect Jorge Soler stepped into the batter's box at Wrigley Field for some BP with the big club. He launched several baseballs onto Waveland Avenue -- in fact, as far as I could tell, he was the only Cub to do so during Saturday's session. He's a big, strong dude, and at age 20 has nowhere to go but get better.
Meanwhile, I'm still having 70s flashbacks about this game, and about how the Pirates dominated the Cubs during that decade. From 1970-79 the Pirates won 111 games against the Cubs, while the Cubs won just 66 meetings between the teams. It's nightmares of Willie Stargell yanking home runs onto Sheffield. This Pirates team isn't as good as that one, but I can see Andrew McCutchen being this generation's Stargell. Pittsburgh could easily take the rest of this series. So goes 2012.