Pirates 5, Cubs 4: A Tale Of 2 Games

Brian Kersey

The Cubs played well for four innings... then stopped hitting, while the bullpen coughed up a four-run lead.

You know, I was all ready to write an upbeat recap of Thursday afternoon's game, because the Cubs spent the first four innings doing really good things. They scored a run after two out and no one on base in the third inning when Emilio Bonifacio reached on an error, stole second and then never stopped running when the throw got into center field. That's something we've rarely seen, if ever, from a Cubs player.

They scored three more runs in the fourth inning on four hits and a wild pitch, taking advantage of opportunities and taking advantage of their opponent's mistakes.

And that doesn't happen often at Wrigley Field, either, at least not from the home team. Timely hitting! Heads-up baserunning! Getting out of jams! Why, it's almost...

Apparently, though, the Cubs forgot how to hit for the next four innings -- after Travis Wood was hit by a pitch with two out in the bottom of the fourth, the next 13 Cubs went down in order. That's not good. Meanwhile, after Wood, who didn't have his best stuff Thursday, gutted out six really good innings including getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third, the bullpen proceeded to blow the four-run lead, capped by a three-run homer onto the roof of the bleacher batter's eye suite by Pedro Alvarez.

The culprits were Brian Schlitter and James Russell, both of whom coughed up home runs; Schlitter allowed a two-run shot to pinch-hitter Travis Snider and Russell was responsible for the dinger by Alvarez. You could quibble with Ricky's decision to leave Wood in to start the seventh, but I suspect he wanted Wood to face the lefthanded Neil Walker and Wood was going to come out of the game after Walker no matter what happened. Unfortunately, Walker doubled off Wood, putting the bullpen in a rough situation, which they then proceeded to make worse.

So instead of a winning series, the Cubs lost their third straight series (and eighth straight dating back to 2013), fell to 3-6, and are 1-4 in one-run games, and are thus "on pace" for 101 one-run games (yes, I'm well aware that "paces" this time of year are pretty silly).

Let's talk about a couple other good things that happened before this recap goes totally negative. Starlin Castro had three more hits, including one in a ninth-inning rally that fell short. He also made a couple of nice defensive plays, including running all the way into foul territory to catch a popup while he was standing near second base in the shift. Also, Castro scored a run in the Cubs' three-run fourth inning (pictured above) because Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez was ruled to have been blocking the plate, one of the first (if not the first) times I have seen that new blocking-the-plate collision-avoidance rule applied.

Wish I had better news, but it is what it is.

The weather was tolerably mild, and the forecast of rainshowers turned into a couple of sprinkles that lasted about 10 minutes just before game time. Overall, the weather during the first homestand wasn't terrible, considering the awful winter and the fact that the Cubs played six home games (including two night games) by April 10. Speaking of the awful winter, I learned that former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, who was in the bleachers Thursday, spent the winter in Chicago, where he still has a home. The reason he has the USPS cap -- he told me he traded another cap for it. Cool stuff, and nice for Demp to just hang out at a baseball game.

Wish he could have seen a Cubs win.

The Cubs head on the road, starting Friday night in St. Louis, facing the Cardinals in the first of a three-game series. Doesn't sound like it's going to get any easier.

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