Cubs complete sweep over sinking Pirates
A weary, crumbling bullpen cost the Pirates again Thursday night.
The Chicago Cubs scored three runs in the eighth inning to steal a 7-6 victory and extend the Pirates' losing streak to a season-worst seven games.
"It's just bad, bad that our bullpen, starting with me, couldn't hold the lead," right-hander Daniel McCutchen said.
For weeks, management has known the club needed a reliable setup man for the eighth inning, but no help arrived Sunday at the trade deadline. Last night, manager Clint Hurdle planned to give closer Joel Hanrahan a four-out save opportunity — an indication of how tenuous the eighth has become.
"We needed two outs to get to Hanrahan," Hurdle said. "We just couldn't get him the ball."
McCutchen (3-3) relieved James McDonald to start the eighth and let all three batters he faced reach base — two singles and a hit-by-pitch.
"I kind of got a little amped up, I guess, and tried things I normally don't try," he said. "Bad outing, especially when our team needed me to come through."
But McCutchen wasn't the only one who stumbled. Jason Grilli gave up an RBI single, and Joe Beimel walked Carlos Pena on a full-count slider that was low to force in the tying run.
"I figured that, on anything over the plate, he'd be swinging," Beimel said. "I was wrong."
Finally, Jose Veras yielded Marlon Byrd's sacrifice fly, which plated the winning run.
The Pirates dropped another half-game behind idle Milwaukee and are seven games out of first place in the NL Central.
Five of the Pirates' past nine losses have been by one run, including the 19-inning debacle July 26 against Atlanta. In each of those losses, they were leading or tied after seven innings.
"It's always frustrating in the bullpen when you give up the lead," Beimel said. "It's definitely a punch in the gut."
It was the first time the Cubs swept a four-game set in Pittsburgh since June 5-7, 1959.
The collapse spoiled a solid start by McDonald, who worked seven innings, allowing four runs and four hits. It was the first time he had lasted past the sixth inning since Sept. 13, 2010 -- a span of 24 starts.
"For me, it was an accomplishment," McDonald said. "I feel like it's been on my back all year, not going seven innings. It was easy before, a little harder this year. It was good going seven, but it would've been better going six with a win for the team."
Home runs by Geovany Soto, Pena and Blake DeWitt gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead. But after that, McDonald retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced.
After the flurry of homers, the Pirates rebounded against righty Rodrigo Lopez. Garrett Jones began the fourth with a double to right field. With one out, Ryan Ludwick lined an RBI single to left — his first hit in 10 at-bats since being traded to the Pirates. Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Doumit pulled singles to right, loading the bases.
Xavier Paul's grounder scored Ludwick and forced out Doumit at second. Brandon Wood walked, reloading the bases.
McDonald stroked a 2-1 fastball toward the North Side Notch. Center fielder Byrd slid to stop the ball and flipped it to left fielder DeWitt, but by then McDonald was at second base. McDonald collected the first three RBI of his career to put the Pirates up, 5-4.
"Hitting coach (Gregg Ritchie) told me to think about hitting the ball up the middle to left-center," McDonald said. "I was really focused on that. I let balls down in the zone go until I got a pitch I liked, then I swung. It feels good to get a big hit in that situation."
Andrew McCutchen then stroked a double to center, scoring McDonald.