Cubs gifted 6 bases-loaded walks but still lose to Pirates

The MLB debut of Pittsburgh pitching star Paul Skenes was fairly impressive.

Overall, though, Saturday's Cubs-Pirates game set unusual standards for horrendous pitching. Cubs hitters collected 6 bases-loaded walks, but Pittsburgh countered with 5 home runs and hung on for a 10-9 victory.

Skenes threw 84 pitches, including 17 that measured at least 100 mph. His four-seam fastball averaged 100.1 mph, according to StatCast, while he also used a slider and splitter frequently. Skenes struck out 7 in 4 innings, and the only run the Cubs scored while Skenes was on the mound was a solo homer by Nico Hoerner in the fourth.

“We did a decent job getting some guys on base and getting the pitch count moving,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “It's a huge fastball, there's no question about it and the sinker (splitter) is a good pitch too.”

With his girlfriend, famous LSU gymnastics influencer Livvy Dunne, watching from the seats, Skenes came back to start the fifth inning and gave up a double to Mike Tauchman and infield single to Seiya Suzuki. The No. 1 pick of the 2023 draft then left with a 6-1 lead, but it didn't last.

Reliever Kyle Nicolas retired the first two batters he faced, hit Ian Happ to load the bases, then lost all control. Including the hit by pitch, Nicolas missed the strike zone with 13 consecutive pitches and walked in 3 runs, two of which were charged to Skenes.

Josh Fleming came in next and walked in another run. Then as storm clouds engulfed PNC Park, Tauchman drove in the tying run with an infield single. Following a two-hour rain delay, the Cubs coaxed two more bases-loaded walks to take an 8-6 lead.

According to Elias, that was the most bases-loaded walks in one inning since 1959.

“It was proof the game shows you something new every day,” Counsell said. “It was a strange inning, got us back into the game after a big deficit.”

Chicago Cubs' Nico Hoerner, top, rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Paul Skenes (30) during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, May 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) AP

The Cubs couldn't hold the lead, however. Keegan Thompson surrendered a 3-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the bottom of the fifth, then Andrew McCutchen homered off Richard Lovelady in the sixth to make it 10-8.

Cubs starter Justin Steele had a rough outing, giving up 3 home runs for just the second time in the majors. All three home runs were on 0-2 counts.

This ended a run of 11 straight stellar starts by Cubs pitchers. During those 11 games, Cubs starters produced a 1.39 ERA over 64 innings.

“I felt like my fastball had some good life to it,” Steele told reporters after the game. “When I would get to two strikes, I probably tried to do a little too much, tried to rip (the slider) too hard and it ends up just kind of spinning in the middle of the zone for too long and they're able to put a good swing on it.”

The one Cubs pitcher who performed well in this game was Jose Cuas, who tossed a pair of scoreless innings. Cuas was sent down to Triple A early this season after posting a 12.00 ERA.

Cuas was called up Saturday to replace Yency Almonte, who went on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to May 8, with a right shoulder strain.

Miles Mastrobuoni (3-for-4) doubled to lead off the ninth. He eventually scored and the Cubs had the tying run on third with two outs, but Cody Bellinger ended the game with a deep line out to right field.

Christopher Morel left the game with an apparent knee injury. He came up limping after an attempt to steal second base in the third inning. Morel originally stayed in the game and batted one more time but was replaced by Nick Madrigal after the rain delay. Counsell said it's not a big concern.

Counsell announced Kyle Hendricks as Sunday's starting pitcher. The Cubs want to give Jameson Taillon a couple more days to get over some back soreness, so they'll bring Hendricks off the injured list after three rehab starts in the minors.

Hendricks' ERA this season is 12.00. He last pitched for the Cubs on April 21, then went on the injured list with a sore back.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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