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Pirates 4, Cubs 3: A long, wet journey to another defeat

The Cubs had their chances, but could not come through in the late innings.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

I hereby submit this game, the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Pirates Sunday at Wrigley Field, as prima facie evidence that the pace of play in Major League Baseball is awful.

Eleven walks (two intentional, but one on a 3-0 count). Three somewhat pointless mid-inning pitching changes. Three hundred thirty-four pitches, seemingly endless full counts, just a drag of a three-hour, 37-minute game that was delayed at the start 55 minutes by rain.

The Cubs did have some chances to come back and win in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but fell short.

When they scored two in the first inning, though, it seemed a continuation of Saturday’s big offensive day. Yes, I know. Baseball doesn’t work that way and it didn’t after that.

The Cubs’ first run scored on a fielding error, after Rafael Ortega had led off with a double, with Willson Contreras at bat [VIDEO].

Contreras wound up at second. After a walk, Frank Schwindel drove Willson in [VIDEO].

Justin Steele was not good on this day. Way too many walks (four in three innings) and 79 pitches (just 43 for strikes). He was constantly behind hitters and the Pirates scored a run off him in the second and two in the third to give them a 3-2 lead.

The Bucs scored a fourth run, that turned out to be the decisive tally, in the fourth inning off Rowan Wick. (Odd choice, to use Wick in the fourth inning.) Jonathan Villar made an error on a ground ball leading off the inning. That was later changed to a hit, but after a stolen base, another Villar error allowed a Pirates run to score [VIDEO].

I don’t know what the deal with Villar is. I remember watching him play for the Brewers and other teams and while he wasn’t great defensively, I don’t recall him being this bad. Honestly I wouldn’t play him anywhere but second base going forward.

The Cubs pen then kept the team in the game. From the fifth inning on Scott Effross, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens and David Robertson combined for five shutout innings, allowing one hit and three walks, and the defense prevented another run from scoring at the plate on a good play by Villar (there, I said something nice about him).

The Cubs had the first two men on base in the seventh on a double by Alfonso Rivas and single by Patrick Wisdom, the single not going far enough to score Rivas. The runners were stranded.

In the eighth, Ian Happ brought the Cubs within a run [VIDEO].

The Cubs got two more baserunners in the inning. Chris Stratton should have had Villar retired on a comebacker, but he threw the ball away and Villar wound up on second. Stratton then ran a 3-0 count on Rivas and the Bucs decided to intentionally walk him. But Wisdom struck out to end the inning. Here’s what happened on that Wisdom at-bat:

That’s the kind of thing Wisdom was supposed to do less of, swinging at high fastballs, this year. It wasn’t a bad at-bat, but...

In the ninth, things looked even better. Ortega doubled with one out and Seiya Suzuki blooped a ball into short right that dropped for another double — but Ortega had to hold to see if the ball was going to be caught, and nearly ran through a stop sign at third. He’d have been out at the plate by 30 feet.

But! Runners on second and third with one out. Got to score one here, right?

Nope. Contreras struck out and Happ was intentionally passed.

With the bases loaded and two out, it was Frank The Tank’s turn.

Sadly, he got fed three 97 mile per hour fastballs from David Bednar and struck out to end the game [VIDEO].

That last pitch says “98” on the video, but you get the idea.

I have a complaint, since the department is open. Yes, Ortega had two doubles in this game. But why is David Ross continuing to lead off a guy who, even with those two doubles, has an OBP of .295? This is not optimal. True, there might not be many good leadoff options at this point, but why not try Happ there? Or even Suzuki?

Sigh. The loss drops the Cubs into fourth place and lowers their record in one-run games to 2-5. I still think this is a better Cubs team than most do, but... they’ve got to win games like these.

Rain delayed this game for 55 minutes before it started and maybe 18,000 of the 28,387 announced were in the ballpark. The sun came out at times and the temperature was comfortable, but of the seven dates on this homestand, the weather was good on only one of them, really, just Saturday. Hopefully this lousy Chicago April weather will improve by the time the Cubs come home in May.

In the meantime they’ve got a six-game road trip to Atlanta and Milwaukee which begins Tuesday, after an off day Monday. Marcus Stroman will start the opener in Atlanta against Braves ace Max Fried. Game time Tuesday is 6:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.