Pirates end 9-game skid, put Cubs on life support
A seven-game losing streak has all but eliminated the Chicago Cubs from playoff contention, and the near finality of that could be felt in their somber clubhouse following the latest defeat.
“You don’t ever envision failing,” right fielder Jason Heyward said quietly. “Whether you’re a parent, someone going to work, playing a team sport, you just don’t never envision, so it’s tough to accept when it happens.”
The freefalling Cubs committed five errors, including two in a seven-run seventh inning, in a 9-2 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
Chicago dropped to 82-75 and would be eliminated with one more loss or Milwaukee win. The Cubs have not missed the playoffs since 2014.
Aided by a fielding error by second baseman Ben Zobrist and errant throw by reliever Danny Hultzen, the Pirates sent 13 batters to the plate in the seventh as they chased starter Kyle Hendricks and erased a 1-0 deficit. The Pirates stopped a nine-game losing streak in which it was outscored 87-26.
Hendricks didn’t allow any hits until the sixth and any runs until the seventh.
The first five batters had hits in the big inning and the sixth reached on Zobrist’s error. Colin Moran’s RBI single tied the score, Kevin Kramer hit a two-run double for a 3-1 lead and two runs scored when Zobrist couldn’t handle Erik Gonzalez’s hard grounder for an error.
Hultzen threw wide of second base in attempting to get a forceout, and Adam Frazier capped the outburst with a run-scoring double.
“They made some good adjustments there, and they were able to hit some good pitches,” Hendricks said. “I felt good all night, felt like we had a good gameplan. They spit on some really good pitches and put some good swings on some really good pitches. It all happened kind of fast.”
Hendricks (11-10) allowed six runs — five earned — and six hits in six-plus innings.
Kyle Schwarber hit two doubles for Chicago and rookie shortstop Nico Hoerner drove in both runs with a double in the fourth inning and a single in the eighth. Hoerner also made the first two errors of his young career.
Gonzalez hit a two-run shot in the eighth, his first home run in 123 plate appearances this season.
Francisco Liriano (5-3) pitched a perfect seventh. Pittsburgh rookie Mitch Keller gave up one run and seven hits in five innings.
It was the final start of the season for Keller, who entered the year considered the organization’s top prospect. He finished 1-5 with a 7.13 ERA in 11 starts.
“It’s huge to go out on top, on a good note,” Keller said. “Strand runners and not letting them score. Getting big outs. It’s all huge to go into the offseason, coming into next season, just having confidence knowing that I can do it.”
Chicago stranded 11 runners and went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
“We put runners on base but we couldn’t drive them in and that’s been a problem for us all season,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said.
With San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy and Kansas City’s Ned Yost set to retire at the end of the season, the Pirates’ Clint Hurdle will become the longest-tenured manager in the major leagues with his current club. Hurdle began in 2011 and is finishing his ninth year.
However, it is not certain Hurdle will return in 2020 despite two years remaining on his contract. The Pirates are assured of finishing last in the NL Central for the first time since 2010.