The Cubs played an almost-perfect game Saturday.
Sunday wasn’t as good.
With a chance to split the four-game series, the Cubs lost 4-3 to the Pirates. A day after the 23-hit outburst and seven scoreless innings from starter Kyle Hendricks in the historic 21-0 rout, the Cubs were forced to use their bullpen after starter Justin Steele struggled through three innings. The offense went just 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position and the defense also fell back, as shortstop Jonathan Villar was charged with one error and could’ve had another.
Left fielder Ian Happ’s eighth-inning homer off Heath Hembree pulled the Cubs to within a run and five relievers combined to throw six innings and give up one unearned run, but neither kept the Cubs from losing for the fifth time in six games.
Steele, who only lasted 2 2/3 innings during his April 19 start against the Rays, batted his command, allowing three runs and four hits while walking four. But he was given the lead early, as the Cubs offense (and Pirates infield defense) momentarily picked up where they left off Saturday.
After designated hitter Rafael Ortega led off with a double off the basket, he came around to score when Pittsburgh third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes missed a grounder from catcher Willson Contreras. On Saturday, Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman made two errors during the Cubs’ eight-run second. This inning wasn’t as prolific for the Cubs, though they did take a 2-0 advantage when first baseman Frank Schwindel singled in Contreras.
Pittsburgh cut Steele’s lead in half in the second when left fielder Ben Gamel drove in first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo with a single to right. The Pirates jumped in front in the third and also ended Steele’s day. Tsutsugo’s sacrifice fly tied the game, and then Newman doubled in Hayes.
Villar, playing shortstop with Nico Hoerner resting, had an adventurous fourth in the field. First, he mishandled right fielder Diego Castillo’s grounder and was originally charged with an error before a scoring change. He did get tagged with one when his throw on a Hayes chopper was wide of Schwindel, allowing Castillo to score. Villar has made four of the Cubs’ seven errors this year.
The Cubs had a chance to get back into the game in the seventh when pinch-hitter Alfonso Rivas doubled and Pirates second baseman Michael Chavis misjudged a Patrick Wisdom pop-up for a single to begin the inning. But Pirates reliever Wil Crowe recovered to strike out second baseman Nick Madrigal looking, get Ortega to pop out and induce right fielder Seiya Suzuki to fly out to center.
Happ’s homer, his first of the year, cut the Pirates lead in the eighth. Pittsburgh reliever Chris Stratton kept the inning alive when he fielded Villar’s grounder but threw the ball away for a two-base error. Rivas was intentionally walked before Wisdom struck out swinging to leave two runners on.
Facing Pirates closer David Bednar, Ortega doubled with one out. Suzuki then blooped one over first and reached second, moving Ortega to third. Contreras struck out swinging, and Happ was intentionally walked to load the bases before Schwindel struck out to end the game.