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Rays 6, Cubs 5: The games that try men’s souls

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The Cubs had plenty of chances to win this game, but did not. (You have heard this before.)

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Runner in scoring position, one out in the second, after a run scored... but no further runs.

Runners on first and second, one out in the third... double play.

Runners on first and third, two out in the fifth, after two runs came in... strikeout.

Runners on first and second in the sixth, nobody out... Chris Archer strikes out the side.

One-out single in the seventh by Willson Contreras, only the ball bounces right back to Rays center fielder Peter Bourjos, who threw him out at second.

And at last, after the Cubs turned this into a one-run game with a rally in the ninth, and had the tying and winning runs on base with the remnants of a holiday crowd on its feet and loud, Jason Heyward lofted a lazy fly ball to left that was caught and the Cubs had a frustrating 6-5 loss to the Rays.

The Cubs were 4-for-13 with RISP, which is good, but it wasn’t enough, and they wound up leaving 10 men on base.

After that 1-0 lead in the second, on a triple by Ian Happ and single by Heyward, the Cubs gave it right back in the third. Steven Souza Jr. singled, stole second, went to third on a throwing error by Contreras and scored on a sacrifice fly. As it turned out, that run wound up being the difference in the game.

The Rays scored five off Jon Lester in the fourth. The first six men reached base on five hits and a walk; the big blows were a two-run homer by Tim Beckham and a two-run double by Souza. It also included Archer’s first major-league hit (he came in 0-for-22) and RBI. That was a bad inning; Lester threw pretty well after that but wound up throwing 100 pitches in only five innings, and usually that puts too much pressure on the bullpen.

Tuesday, though, the pen was up to the task. Hector Rondon, Brian Duensing and Justin Grimm threw four scoreless innings and faced the minimum 12 hitters. Two walks were issued, one by Duensing and one by Grimm, but both were erased on double plays.

That kept the game close while the Cubs mounted a ninth-inning comeback off Rays closer Alex Colome. Pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. singled, then Jon Jay walked. Kris Bryant popped up, but Anthony Rizzo singled in Almora to make it 6-4, with Jay going to third. Ben Zobrist hit into a force play, scoring Jay to make it a one-run game. Happ walked on a very close pitch, putting the tying run in scoring position, but Heyward’s fly ball ended it.

There weren’t many Cubs offensive highlights other than that ninth inning, but here’s a look at a couple of nice defensive plays turned.

Zobrist made a nice diving snag in the second inning [VIDEO].

Addison Russell made this good catch on a line drive in the fourth [VIDEO].

Bryant made this slick backhanded spin move on a ground ball in the eighth [VIDEO].

But that’s it, really; you can’t spot a team a 6-1 lead in the middle innings and expect to come back too many times. Lester has been the Cubs’ most consistent starter this year, but he just put one bad inning on the board in this one and that, as they say, was that.

The “quality start” isn’t really that much of a “quality” stat, but this will give you a pretty good idea of the difference between the 2016 Cubs rotation and this year’s:

Obviously, that puts too much pressure on the bullpen, although today the relievers did their jobs well.

The crowd of 42,046 was not only the largest of the season at Wrigley Field — it was the largest in almost four years:

Partly, that has to do with how many standing-room tickets are sold, but the place looked filled to the brim for this holiday game. Many fans started to head out after the seventh-inning stretch. They missed the near-comeback. That’s about all I’ve got here — a “near-comeback.”

This team, I believe, can still come back and win the N.L. Central. But they had better start doing it soon.

The Brewers won their afternoon contest against the Orioles, so that drops the Cubs to 3½ games out of first place, matching their biggest deficit of the season. The Cardinals also lost Tuesday afternoon, so the Cubs stay a game ahead of them.

It was nice to see Heyward come back and reach base twice; he had good at-bats, although the last one didn’t end the way we would have wanted it to. Based on this, he’s not quite at 100 percent, but close:

Not that this has anything to do with how they play, but the Cubs should be happy that Tuesday was the last day they’ll have to wear a special-event/holiday uniform this year. They’re 2-8 wearing the special uni’s.

The Cubs will try to get back to .500 (again; it would be the 19th time) Wednesday afternoon in the finale of this two-game set. John Lackey goes for the Cubs (please, please be Good Lackey) and Blake Snell for the Rays.