There was nooooo doubt about it. Or not much, anyway.
The Pirates jumped out to a 3-1 lead tonight thanks to a homer from Jordy Mercer (in the first inning), a double by Mercer followed by a weak Andrew McCutchen single past a shift (in the third), and a Mercer hit by pitch with the bases loaded (in the fourth).
But when the Bucs failed to score more than one run after Lester loaded the bases in that fourth inning, it was impossible not to feel a sense of creeping dread. And sure enough, in the bottom of the fourth, Ben Zobrist singled and got erased on a force out by Javier Baez, who made it to third with some adroit baserunning and then came home on a bunt by David Ross. The next inning, Jon Niese made a big mistake on a fastball to Kris Bryant, who dutifully smashed it to left field to tie the game.
After that, with how good the Cubs were, how soundly they've beaten the Pirates this season, and how defeated the Bucs seem to look in their presence, was their really much doubt who would emerge with a win? The only question was how the Cubs would do it. The baseball gods drew an index card from a giant fishbowl and came up with "David Ross homer," and thus was it so in the sixth, as the octogenarian catcher blasted off against the Pirates for the second time this year.
From there, Jared Hughes continued to struggle, making an awful mess that Neftali Feliz quickly cleaned up, while the Bucs' offense went down quietly. There were, certainly, some nice Bucs performances here -- from Feliz, and especially from Mercer, who was integrally involved in all three Pirates runs. But mostly tonight's game was a mess of missed opportunities, leading to a loss that was all too predictable.
In the ninth, Erik Kratz, whose acquisition last week sort of made sense but basically amounted to a shrug in transaction form, not only got to bat, but bunted into a groundout on the first pitch he saw. Because why not. That's the 2016 Pirates versus the 2016 Cubs, boiled down to a single pitch.