Steele exits early with injury, Cubs can't complete sweep of Rays

The Cubs had an improbable sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays in their sights a few times on Wednesday.

But after starter Justin Steele left early with an injury, the Cubs didn't have enough pitching to finish things off, then couldn't get a clutch hit at the end. While the Rays won 4-3 at Wrigley Field to avoid the sweep, the Cubs departed for a 10-game West Coast trip not feeling too down.

"Really nice series by this group," manager David Ross said. "Well-pitched series for us, hard-fought, hard-nosed baseball, good defense all over the place. Really proud of how we finished the homestand."

The biggest story was the status of Steele. He was perfect in the first three innings. But during the third, he was visited by Ross and a trainer, then Hayden Wesneski took over to start the fourth.

"Just forearm tightness," Steele said. "I'm really not too concerned about it. I think it was more precautionary."

Steele is expected to have an MRI on Thursday morning, meet the team in San Diego and decisions will be made then about his spot in the rotation. The left-hander had Tommy John surgery on his elbow a few years ago, but doesn't sense a recurrence happening.

"I don't think it's anything like that. I would say I didn't feel it in the act of pitching," Steele said. "I felt really good today, felt like I had my stuff. Had them swinging at the four-seam in and that was kind of my game plan. It stinks, but it happens."

Ross said Steele told the training staff his forearm started to tighten up between the second and third innings.

"Radar went way up obviously," Ross said. "Talked to the trainers, they felt comfortable. Then watched him kind of pump the hand and stretching the forearm a little bit and went out and checked on him.

"He said he didn't feel it at all, no tingling, no shot down the arm, anything like that. So I let him finish. Just the more I watched him throw, the more nervous I got. So just went ahead and for precautionary reasons pulled him."

Wesneski came on and cruised through the middle innings. But a key moment arrived with two outs in the top of the seventh. Wesneski walked Manuel Margot and with a left-handed hitter coming up, Ross called for Mark Leiter Jr. from the bullpen.

Leiter Jr.'s second pitch to Brandon Lowe was sent into the center field greenery for a game-tying 2-run homer.

"We had a mapped-out plan," Ross said. "Love Leiter against those lefties. He's done a really nice job of us all year, just wasn't his day."

The Cubs took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh when Seiya Suzuki led off with a double and scored on Trey Mancini's pinch-hit RBI single. But Leiter Jr. gave up another 2-run homer in the eighth to Jose Siri, which landed in almost the exact same spot as Lowe's.

Mancini collected his first RBI since May 4 and talked about spending more time in the batting cage Wednesday to correct some flaws.

"I've been hitting a lot of ground balls lately and that's not typically going to provide a lot of success and slug for me," he said. "I'm somebody that needs to hit the ball in the air. So just tried to make a couple adjustments."

The Cubs left five men on base in the eighth and ninth innings. Ian Happ took a called strike three with a full count to end the eighth with runners on second and third. Replays showed the pitch to be a few inches off the plate.

The Cubs then loaded the bases with one out in the ninth on a walk, hit batter and error. But Miles Mastrobuoni struck out, then Yan Gomes lined a rocket into the left-field corner, but Randy Arozarena chased it down for the final out.

The Cubs (24-31) were aggressive Wednesday, grabbing 4 stolen bases along with 2 caught stealing. They stole second base twice in the first inning and took a 2-0 lead on RBI singles by Happ and Mike Tauchman.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Tampa Bay Rays Jose Siri (22) reacts at home plate in front of Chicago Cubs Tucker Barnhart (18) after his go-ahead home run during the eighth inning on Wednesday. Associated Press
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