Cubs swept at home by Pirates
The Chicago Cubs appeared to have staved off a sweep from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Easter Sunday until things fell apart in the seventh inning in front of 39,422 of the Wrigley Field faithful.
The Pirates completed the three-game sweep by beating the Cubs 6-1 in dramatic fashion.
Once Cubs pitcher Jon Lester left the game with a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, relief pitcher Koji Uehara promptly gave up 2 hits and 2 walks, giving the Pirates a 3-1 lead.
The Pirates staged a resurrection of their own by chasing Uehara from the game when infielder Jordy Mercer singled to right-center field, scoring pinch hitter John Jaso, tying the game at 1. The Pirates tacked on another 2 runs in the eighth inning when Mercer and rookie infielder Alen Hanson scored.
Uehara, who got the loss, entered the game with a 20-inning scoreless streak, which was the second longest in baseball. He was replaced by reliever Hector Rondon.
"Ronny almost got out of the entire mess," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "The play at the plate, it's one of those things. When the play 'stands,' it's frustrating, but that's the way it works. That's two days in a row. We just have to do a better job at the end of the game protecting leads. That's all. We made so many good plays on defense. We were outstanding. Whether it was picking guys off, throwing guys out, the bunt defense, KB down the third-base line … there were so many really good plays."
Maddon also said the Cubs have to get better at holding leads late in games. "We did so many good things, but we did not get the hit. That's been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game."
The Cubs dropped to 5-1 this season when they've outhit the opposition, while losing their first game of the season when having the lead going into the eighth inning.
"We're never going to single out any certain part of the game, but you know as far as hitting goes, you take that as part of the group. You want to hit well together and we didn't do that this series," infielder Ben Zobrist said. "Regardless of personal statistics, we got to score more runs. Get the bats going and keep working every day and have good, quality at-bats."
The Pirates added to their lead in the top of the ninth when Adam Frazier hit a 3-run homer off Cubs reliever Justin Grimm, scoring John Jaso and Josh Harrison to extend their lead to 6-1.
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon (1-0) pitched 7 innings, striking out 6 for the win. He pitched his fourth career start of at least seven innings without allowing an earned run.
"I don't know if it's a statement to anyone but ourselves," Taillon said. "We've played some pretty bad baseball against the Reds. We knew we were better than that. To be able to answer, come in here and beat a great team that we respect a great amount, that speaks a lot for the character in this club."
Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle echoed Taillon's sentiments on Sunday's start.
"He showed some great growth today," Hurdle said. "The seventh inning, a run in the meat of the lineup, he executed pitches with power and spin. Made pitches he wanted to. Kept us in the game, kept them off the plate after one got in. Just a fantastic effort."
The Cubs got on the board first in the seventh inning when Tommy LaStella, who was pinch hitting for Lester, hit a double to left field, scoring Jason Heyward.
Lester got the no decision (0-0) after Uehara couldn't hold the lead. Lester pitched seven innings. He gave up 3 hits, struck out 3, on 103 pitches, 67 of them for strikes. He has a rough spot in the first inning when he allowed a walk to Mercer and a triple down the right field line to outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
"We were able to make up for it," Lester said. "I got back to where we needed to be. First inning was a little shaky. I was trying to find release points on pitches without any trouble. Willy (Contreras) did a good job of controlling that situation."
The Cubs have a 19-28 record on Easter. Their last win on the holiday was on April 8, 2012, a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.
The Cubs (6-7) start a three game series Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers.