CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 16: Neil Walker #18 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after being called out at third base in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs on September 16, 2012 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
This afternoon in Wrigley Field the Pirates and Cubs played a game that lasted over four hours and almost perfectly, and depressingly, provided a microcosm of the last four months of the Pirates' season.
For the first four and half innings, the Pirates supported a strong performance from their starting pitcher, Jeff Locke, with a combination of solid, sometimes brilliant, defense, timely hits and home runs. They entered the bottom of the fifth with a comfortable 6-1 lead, looking very much like the team that Pirates fans remembered watching in June and July.
Then the wheels came off.
Things started to go south when, as has happened far too often the past two months, the Pirates starting pitcher went wobbly. In the bottom of the fifth, Locke gave up a solo home run to Joe Mather, a single to Darwin Barney, a two run home run to Anthony Rizzo, and a single to Alfonso Soriano. Chris Resop was called in for relief and, after retiring Castro, he gave up a sharp single to Welington Castillo that scored Soriano and pulled the Cubs within one, 6-5.
The Pirates struck back in top of the sixth when Pedro Alvarez hit his second mammoth opposite field home run of the game. (Both of his home runs left Wrigley Field and appeared to have landed somewhere on Waveland Avenue.) After Alvarez’s three run shot, the Pirates were back in control 9-5.
It was now up to the bullpen to secure the win. But like we have seen numerous times in August and September, it couldn’t hold the lead.
Rick van den Hurk pitched himself into a bases loaded mess in the bottom of the sixth. Clint Hurdle then turned to Jared Hughes to extract the Pirates and he promptly gave up a single to Darwin Barney and a grand slam to Anthony Rizzo, which put the Cubs up for good 10-9.
The Pirates looked to have some life left in them when Starling Marte tripled to lead off the seventh. But the Pirates got unlucky when Neil Walker hit a line shot to Darwin Barney. Andrew McCutchen then inexplicably struck out after being up 3-0 in the count. The inning ended when the Pirates failed to execute a delayed double steal. Bad luck, McCutchen's off-balance at bat, and poor execution all but ended an afternoon that now felt not unlike many others we’ve seen the past two months.
The Cubs put up three more insurance runs on Chris Leroux in the eighth and the game ended 13-9.
I hate to end this recap with an observation that is being used way too much lately, but I think it is hard to imagine a lower low point of the season.
The Cubs and Pirates will conclude the series tomorrow and it looks like the Bucs will find themselves three games behind the Cardinals with 17 games to play.