The old axiom about baseball being a game of inches was fully evident Saturday in the Pirates’ 3-2 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Pinch hitter Matt Duffy’s bloop single in the seventh inning brought home Jason Heyward with the go-ahead run as Chicago handed the Pirates their eighth loss in their last nine starts.
Duffy took Clay Holmes’ offering off the very end of the bat, and as a result the ball fell in front of the Pirates’ charging right fielder Phillip Evans. Evans uncorked a strong throw, but Heyward dove head-first toward the plate, barely eluding the tag of catcher Michael Perez.
Duffy’s bloop hit and Heyward’s dive overshadowed a strong starting performance from Pirates starter Wil Crowe, who limited the Cubs to a pair of runs and four hits over six innings before departing with the score tied at 2-2. The right-hander walked just one and struck out five.
Sam Howard came in relief of Crowe to start the seventh and promptly walked Heyward, then struck out David Bote. Howard followed by striking out Ildemaro Vargas, and when Duffy came on to pinch hit, Pirates manager Derek Shelton brought Holmes on to replace Howard.
Heyward then stole second on a contested call, and that set the stage for Duffy’s game-winning hit.
The Bucs might have suffered an even bigger loss as cleanup hitter Colin Moran, leading the team in most offensive categories in the first month of the season, had to leave the game in the first inning. Moran fielded a line drive off the bat of Heyward at first base with the bases loaded and then dove head-first toward first base in an attempt to double off the runner, Willson Contreras.
Moran got to his feet and then limped off the field.
The Pirates announced later in the game that Moran left with left groin discomfort. He’s considered day to day.
Moran was hitting .297 at the time of his injury with a team-leading 19 RBIs. His four home runs are also tied for the team lead.
The Cubs wound up scoring just once in that first inning, and the Pirates took a brief 2-1 lead in the fourth when Erik Gonzalez singled and Ka’ai Tom took a Trevor Williams offering over the left-center field wall for his first career home run.
The Cubs answered in the bottom of the fourth on a base hit by Contreras, a wild pitch by Crowe, Bote’s base hit and Eric Sogard’s sacrifice fly.
The game remain tied until Duffy’s heroics in the seventh. The Pirates put the tying run on base with two outs in the ninth when Evans walked, but Todd Frazier fouled out to first off Cubs closer Craig Kimbrell to end the game. Frazier is now 1-for-31 on the season.
The two teams will meet at 2:20 p.m. today in the final game of the series. Tyler Anderson is slated to start for the Pirates against the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.