As the Cubs try to pull themselves out of their latest abyss, there are painful reminders that the smallest shortcomings can prove costly.
Such was the case during a 2-1, 11-inning loss Saturday to the Mets in the first game of a split doubleheader, and a 4-3, 10-inning defeat in the second game extended their losing streak to nine games. They are now 3-11 in extra innings.
In the first game, right-hander Marcus Stroman and five relievers held the Mets to four hits, but the strong pitching was negated by a lack of clutch hitting and an inability to make contact in late-inning situations.
The worst example came in the 10th, when pinch runner Nelson Velazquez stole third base with no outs. But Mets reliever Adam Ottavino struck out Patrick Wisdom and P.J. Higgins before third baseman Eduardo Escobar robbed Christopher Morel of a game-winning hit with a diving stop to end the threat.
After the Mets took the lead in the 11th, Morel stole third after Rafael Ortega and Willson Contreras struck out. But he was left stranded when Ian Happ grounded out to end the game.
In the second game, Yan Gomes hit an RBI double in the second and a run-scoring single in the fourth against three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Morel added an RBI single in the 10th, but Frank Schwindel grounded into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.
”We’re going to find a way to win,” manager David Ross said of the last game before the All-Star break Sunday.
During their skid, the Cubs have lost seven of their nine games by two runs or fewer. That frustration is heightened by the fact they’re batting .221 with runners in scoring position.
”That’s it,” Ross said in summing up the 10th inning of the first game. ”You’ve got a 3-1 count [on Wisdom], a man at third with nobody out. You’ve got to get that run in to win the game. We’ve got to figure out a way. That’s been our Achilles heel.
”We’re in ballgames; we keep pointing to that. But [we’re not] figuring out a way to win, having the [good] at-bat, using the whole field, making contact. We’re getting guys at third consistently. We’ve done a nice job of putting ourselves in a spot to get runners in scoring position. We’re not very good now getting runners in from third with less than two outs.”
An RBI single by Schwindel with two outs in the fourth accounted for the Cubs’ lone run in Game 1. Higgins hit a leadoff double in the fifth but was left stranded. The Cubs put the go-ahead runner at second in the seventh, but Morel grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Ross was relegated to watching the final nine innings of Game 1 from a television after he was ejected for the second consecutive game for arguing balls and strikes. Plate umpire Ramon DeJesus tossed him after the second.
”There were two balls to [Higgins] that were balls, and I was just saying, ‘Hey, that should have been 2-0,’ ” Ross said. ”He threw me out. I didn’t cuss or didn’t say anything derogatory.”
The Cubs’ lack of hitting overshadowed an encouraging performance from Stroman in his second start since returning from the 10-day injured list with a strained right shoulder.
Stroman was booed by a large contingent of Mets fans in pregame introductions, but he silenced them with 4 1/3 innings of one-hit ball before being pulled with his pitch count at 83.
”It’s no different to me,” Stroman said of facing the Mets for the first time since departing via free agency. ”I know a lot of fans kind of hyped it up, but it’s the same mentality for me going into each and every game.”