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Ninth-inning rally comes up short for Pirates

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 3:30 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Gaby Sanchez strikes out with Andrew McCutchen at second base during the seventh inning against the Cubs on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher James McDonald delivers during the third inning against the Cubs on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher James McDonald tags out the Cubs' Dioner Navarro Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher James McDonald delivers to the plate during the third inning against the Cubs Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Cubs' Brent Lillibridge loses the ball, as Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen steals second base during the seventh inning Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder watches a two-run home run by the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz in front of the bullpens during the ninth inning Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo (left) celebrates with Nate Schierholtz after his two-run home run during the ninth inning against the Pirates Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Jared Hughes stands on the mound after giving up a two-run home run to the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz during the ninth inning Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro celebrates a double play to end the game next to the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cubs pitcher Travis Wood delivers to the plate during the fifth inning against the Pirates Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez strikes out with the tying run on third base during the ninth inning against the Cubs on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

Andrew McCutchen believes the Pirates' bats will come around, and he doesn't think it will take as long as it did last season for the team to get into an offensive rhythm.

For now, however, the Pirates are struggling, and a ninth-inning rally Thursday afternoon couldn't save them or James McDonald from a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

“It's pretty much the same team as last year, with the exception of a few guys,” McCutchen said. “We've been here, and we know what we're capable of doing, and we know what we did last year. You learn from those things, and shame on us if we do the same thing. I think we'll just continue to keep working hard, and things will go in our favor.”

The Pirates scored a total of six runs on 13 hits in the three games against the Cubs, who took the first series of 2013.

They had just one hit through eight innings in Thursday's finale, as the Cubs clung to a 1-0 lead, thanks to a third-inning RBI single by Starlin Castro. Then Nate Schierholtz hit a two-out, two-run homer to center field off Jared Hughes in the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the inning, Starling Marte smacked a leadoff single to left field off closer Carlos Marmol. Russell Martin walked, and McCutchen singled to left to score Marte. Gaby Sanchez hit the ball past diving first baseman Anthony Rizzo to bring Martin home and make it 3-2.

With McCutchen on third, Pedro Alvarez struck out, and Neil Walker grounded into a double play. McDonald (0-1), who allowed just one run and two hits in seven innings, took the loss. Cubs left-hander Travis Wood (1-0) got the win. Marmol recorded his first save of the year.

The Pirates also had a chance to win in the ninth inning on Opening Day but fell short.

“We need some guys to slow down in the batter's box,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We're doing a little bit of swinging at balls and taking strikes. We found a way in the two games we lost to get not just the tying run but the winning run to the plate. We just have to start doing the offensive thing a little earlier.”

The Pirates produced virtually nothing offensively in the first eight innings.

Sanchez walked to lead off the second inning, but Alvarez, batting fifth, grounded into a double-play. Clint Barmes hit a one-out double in the third, but that was it for base runners until McDonald walked with one out in the sixth.

McCutchen reached first on an error by third baseman Luis Valbuena in the seventh inning and stole second and third, giving him four stolen bases this season. But Sanchez struck out swinging, Alvarez popped out to Rizzo and Walker struck out looking.

“There are going to be series throughout the year that you wish you had more offense and series where you wish you had more pitching,” Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. “Obviously this series was a series where we wish we scored more runs. But we'll go to L.A., get some nice weather in and start swinging the bats like we're able to.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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