In a season filled with hard-to-swallow losses, the Cubs found a way to up the bitter quotient Saturday at red-tinged Wrigley Field.
Not only did the Cubs drop a 6-3 decision to rival St. Louis -- whose red-clad fans outnumbered the home faithful throughout the upper deck and swelled attendance to a season-high 41,927 -- they lost in part due to a successful Cardinals debut by free-agent acquisition A.J. Pierzynski, the active player Cubs fans love to hate more than any other.
Booed loudly before each of his at-bats -- "I'm sure I'll get a nice ovation today from the crowd," Pierzynski said sarcastically before the game -- the former White Sox catcher brushed off his customary Wrigley welcome and went 3-for-4, highlighted by a run-scoring single that capped the Cardinals' game-deciding, 4-run seventh inning, which snapped a 2-2 tie.
However, Wrigley's favorite villain was just one reason why the Cubs dropped their 14th game in 18 tries since the July 4 trade that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
Reliever James Russell entered a 2-2 game in the seventh inning and surrendered 4 earned runs on 2 hits, a walk and a wild pitch. Jon Jay led off with a single, advanced on pinch hitter Mark Ellis' sacrifice bunt, and stole third on a play that was reviewed and upheld.
With the infield playing in, Matt Carpenter then bounced to Anthony Rizzo at first base. Rizzo's throw to the plate was too late to nail the hook-sliding Jay, who avoided the reach of catcher Welington Castillo and staked the Cardinals to a 3-2 lead.
After a wild pitch and a walk by Matt Holliday, Matt Adams drilled a 2-run triple to the wall in right-center to put the Cardinals ahead 5-2. Adams also doubled and drove in 4 runs.
"Adams put a real good at-bat together," Russell said. "He fouled a lot of pitches off. He just ended up getting a mistake and he did what he's supposed to do with it."
Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he has not lost confidence in his bullpen in general, or Russell in particular, after an outing in which the left-hander's ERA rose from 2.67 to 3.77.
"All of them have actually done a great job for us," Renteria said of the bullpen. "Every now and then you have a hiccup, and today (Russell) had a hiccup. It's still one of those things where you trust him when he goes out there."
Pierzynski added salt to the wound with his two-out RBI single to cap the seventh, making it a 6-2 game.
On the positive side for the Cubs?
Despite allowing 2 earned runs in the first inning and admittedly not having his best stuff, starting pitcher Jake Arrieta held St. Louis to 5 hits and a walk and struck out six in 6 innings to post his ninth straight quality start.
"I came out kind of flat in the first and really struggled with command of just about everything today," Arrieta said after the no-decision. "I didn't really have a pitch I could go to necessarily in spots to induce contact or make things a little less difficult on myself.
"It was pretty much a battle from start to finish."