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Pirates 5, Cubs 4: Pitching Failure, Again

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A game that looked tough for the Cubs to win almost got into the win column. Unfortunately, "almost" doesn't cut it in a pennant race.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

We knew, when this game started, that it was going to be very difficult to defeat Gerrit Cole, who is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

So when the Cubs sneaked a run across in the top of the first on a Dexter Fowler single, a stolen base, a throwing error and a sacrifice fly, it appeared the Cubs might be in business. That is, if Jason Hammel could have done his part.

Hammel coughed the run right back, plus two more, He didn't have command, and had to be removed before the end of the fourth inning. I'm still wondering if he's suffering residual effects from the leg injury he suffered against the Cardinals back in July, because he really hasn't been effective since then.

The Cubs made a seventh-inning comeback, but unfortunately, Justin Grimm continued his September slump, walking Pedro Alvarez to lead off the eighth inning. Pinch-runner Pedro Florimon stole second, advanced on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly. Does this sound familiar? (It should. I wrote the same thing about Dexter Fowler two paragraphs ago.) That was the deciding run in a 5-4 Pirates win. So... this unfortunately continued the distressing pattern started in Philadelphia, where the Cubs fell behind, caught up in the late innings, and then immediately gave up the lead again in part due to bad relief pitching from Grimm.

The Cubs' record in one-run games, so good earlier this year, dropped to 29-19 and they have dropped their last two one-run decisions.

Trevor Cahill helped keep the game close with two shutout innings of relief with four strikeouts, and he really had a good sinker working. To me, it's time to think about possibly inserting Cahill into the rotation to replace Dan Haren, or maybe give him the "bullpen day" start against the Cardinals, whether it's on Friday or Saturday.

Cahill did provide some unintentional amusement when he got thrown out at first base on what appeared to be a clean single to right field:

In fairness, Gregory Polanco was playing very shallow and Cahill might be the slowest baserunner I've seen among pitchers this year. In the bottom of the inning, Chris Coghlan made a throw to first base on a single by Jung Ho Kang, though Coghlan was playing much deeper and Kang is a much better baserunner.

Cole was sailing along through six innings when the Cubs broke through in the seventh. Miguel Montero singled to right, then Starlin Castro bounced a ball off Cole's foot for an infield hit. Did that bother Cole? We can't be sure, but Tommy La Stella, batting for Zac Rosscup, doubled down the line in left to make it 4-2. Joakim Soria replaced Cole and could not find the strike zone. He did get Addison Russell to line out to shortstop, but eventually wild-pitched both runners home to tie the game.

The Cubs didn't really get close to scoring in the eighth, except for yet another fly ball hit by Kris Bryant to the deepest part of PNC Park that was caught by Andrew McCutchen on the warning track just in front of the wall in left-center field.

I'm a little concerned about Anthony Rizzo, who is 5-for-30 on this road trip and has not had a hit in his last 12 trips to the plate. He does have three doubles and a home run among those five hits, but he's going to have to start hitting better.

One more thing, unrelated to baseball but to the TV broadcasts: I think if I see this commercial one more time, I'm going to scream.

As I said above, this was going to be a tough game for the Cubs to win with Cole pitching. It's frustrating to have actually tied the game against him (with runs charged to him, even after he left the game) and then lose anyway. But the Cubs can get out of this day with a split, which is about what I think most of us expected, with a win in Game 2 behind Jon Lester, who is going against J.A. Happ. The Cubs hit Happ hard in his very first start as a Pirate. Here's hoping they can do that again. A preview for Game 2 (starting time 6:05 p.m. CT) will post here at 5 p.m. CT.