The Cubs lost to the Pirates 6-5 Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, and truth be told, the score of this game should have been something along the lines of 10-6 in favor of the Cubs.
Because the Cubs loaded the bases in both the first and second innings off a clearly struggling Tyler Glasnow and came up with a grand total of one run. Joe Maddon summed up the failure:
#Cubs went 2-for-12 with RISP and left 13 on base. Maddon: "We had the right guys up at the right time, and it did not work out"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 27, 2017
Willson Contreras was called out on strikes to end the first inning and TV cameras caught him ranting on the way back to the dugout. Turns out he might have had a point:
Call hurts #Cubs— Cubs Strike Zone (@CubsUmp) April 26, 2017
Strike 2 should be ball 2
Top 1 Glasnow vs Contreras
12% call same
2.4in from edge pic.twitter.com/0QDPxHgTqN
Here’s more on that:
FWIW, per Gameday: https://t.co/JlhcDkndHa pic.twitter.com/6gOWHcT3dS— Adam Berry (@adamdberry) April 26, 2017
Looks like strike one and strike two (pitches two and three above) were the ones Willson wasn’t happy with, and apparently with good reason.
Then after Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for the only RBI of those two innings, Addison Russell came to the plate with the score just 2-1 in favor of the Pirates. Russell usually loves those types of situations, but he grounded out harmlessly to Josh Bell to end the inning.
With one out and runners on first and third in the bottom of the second and the score now 3-1 Bucs, Jon Lester came off the mound and had Josh Harrison caught between first and second. Phil Gosselin broke for the plate and the Cubs had him caught, but Willson Contreras dropped Kris Bryant’s throw [VIDEO] and Gosselin was safe, making it 4-1.
Whether that affected Lester or not is hard to say, but the next two Pirates had hits to make it 5-1.
Still, the Cubs fought back. After a walk to Jon Jay (who is having a fine year so far), Bryant doubled him in to make it 5-2 and Anthony Rizzo singled in Bryant to bring the Cubs within two. The game’s still in just the fourth inning, so there’s plenty of time to come back. And if you felt the game had lasted all night at that point, you weren’t alone:
PNC Park usher Phil Coyne turns 99 on Friday and was feted in a pre-game ceremony. He was 86 when this game started. #Pirates— John Perrotto (@JPerrotto) April 26, 2017
Lester gave up one more run, a homer by Bell in the sixth, and that turned out to be the decisive run of the game. That’s because in the eighth, Rizzo smashed a baseball deep into the Pittsburgh night [VIDEO] with Bryant on base.
That made it 6-5, and the bullpen did its job keeping the game close: 2⅓ innings, no hits, no runs, two walks. The Cubs did get the tying run on base in the ninth inning off Pirates closer Tony Watson on a leadoff single by Contreras. Javier Baez grounded into a force play and Ben Zobrist reached on an error, putting the tying run in scoring position. Unfortunately, Albert Almora Jr. then hit into a double play, ending the game.
So despite plenty of chances — 12 hits, six walks and a hit batsman for 19 total baserunners — the Cubs just couldn’t cash in on enough of them and wound up winning the series two games to one instead of a sweep.
The other story of this game was the major-league debut of Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe, the first major-leaguer born in Africa (he’s a native of South Africa). Signed out of a European tryout camp in 2008, he made steady progress through the Pirates system before the callup. Known primarily for his defense, he singled in his first big-league at-bat. Congratulations to him and props to the Pirates for locating ballplayers in unusual places, including Lithuanian-born reliever Dovydas Neverauskas, who made his big-league debut against the Cubs earlier this week. The Pirates also signed a couple of cricket players from India back in 2008 following a reality show called “Million Dollar Arm.” Neither Rinku Singh nor Dinesh Patel made it past A ball, but this shows that there can be baseball talent unearthed in the most unlikely of locations.
Back to the Cubs: The six walks drawn Wednesday night put the Cubs back in the National League lead with 86 (tied with the Dodgers). That’s 4.1 walks per game, or a pace for 663.
Bottom line for Wednesday’s game: Not enough hits with runners on base. As I noted earlier, the Cubs could have scored 10 or more runs with all those baserunners.
Nevertheless, they leave Pittsburgh still in first place and with a 4-2 trip, heading to Boston where they will open a three-game series against the Red Sox Friday night. It’s the first interleague matchup of the season for the Cubs. Friday, Jake Arrieta — who took a perfect game into the eighth inning the last time he pitched in Fenway Park — will face Drew Pomeranz.