Pirates 4, Cubs 2: So Close, And Yet So Far

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ever heard the phrase "nibbled to death by ducks?" That's what this one felt like.

The Pirates defeated the Cubs 4-2 Wednesday evening and it seemed as if every time you'd look up, the Pirates were getting another hit off Jason Hammel. They had 11 hits in all off Hammel, although he didn't seem to pitch all that poorly; many of them were ground balls that just seemed to find holes.

Truth be told, the 4-2 score could have been a lot worse if the Pirates hadn't kept running themselves out of innings. In the fourth inning, with runners on second and third, Ike Davis hit a sharp line drive that was caught by Darwin Barney. Gregory Polanco, playing in just his second major-league game, made a rookie mistake, taking off from third. He was easily doubled off. Incidentally, had Andrew McCutchen been a little farther off second, that might have been a triple play, as Barney caught the ball only a couple of steps away from the base. Then in the next inning, Starling Marte got himself doubled off third base -- on an foul popup caught behind the plate by John Baker. Don't think I've ever seen that one before.

Anyway, I've buried the lede here. The difference in the game was a two-run homer by McCutchen -- the third straight game he's done that. The ball was nearly caught by Chris Coghlan, who leaped over the short left-field wall and the first row of seats. The ball appeared to pop in, then out, of Coghlan's glove, when a fan trying to catch the ball bumped the glove. (That's legal, of course, once the ball is over the wall.) Great effort by Coghlan:

The Cubs tied the game with a pair of runs in the second. Luis Valbuena singled and Nate Schierholtz walked, and they were driven in by a Baker single and a groundout by Barney. The only other real scoring chance they had was in the fifth, when they loaded the bases with two out, only to see Schierholtz strike out to end the inning.

The game was delayed about an hour and a half by rain, and it rained again for a time in the middle innings, hard for a few minutes, but not hard enough to stop play. Seems as if every time the Cubs go to Pittsburgh, there's some sort of weather problem -- delay, or postponement. After Hammel was lifted for a pinch-hitter, Carlos Villanueva and Justin Grimm at least kept the game close by throwing three combined shutout innings, but the offense couldn't do anything against the Bucs' tough late-inning tandem of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli.

I've been tough on Luis Valbuena here in the past, but I'm going to praise him now. Valbuena is having by far the best year of his career and since May 13 he is hitting .384/.458/.603 in 22 games (28-for-73 with 10 walks, 10 doubles and two home runs). That's good for anyone, let alone a guy who's been more or less a super-utility player most of his career. Is this a fluke, or does this represent a real change in Valbuena's ability at age 28? Keep up the good work, Luis. Maybe "super-utility" would be a good role for him as the Cubs begin to reap the fruits of the farm system.

It wasn't a bad game. It just wasn't a good game, and went into the books as another defeat. Now the Cubs will have to win Thursday evening's game just to go out of Pittsburgh with a split. Jeff Samardzija -- who has great career numbers at PNC Park -- will face Edinson Volquez.

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