Through the first 100 games of the season, the Cubs are 45-55.
The team’s 100th game of the season ended in a manner this team has seen many times this year – another close loss.
Nate Schierholtz led off the ninth with a double to center field after fan interference was ruled by the umpire crew. Pinch-hitter David DeJesus followed the double with a swinging strikeout against Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler for the first out in the frame.
Darwin Barney battled in his at-bat, fouling off several pitches before tapping a weak ground ball back to the mound for the second out. Ziegler got Welington Castillo to pop out to second to end the ballgame, and give the Diamondbacks a split of the four-game set.
The D-Backs jumped out to a lead in their first at-bat, taking advantage of a trio of walks issued by the Cubs’ right-hander, and a timely RBI double by Aaron Hill. Left-fielder Cole Gillespie, who replaced the late scratch Alfonso Soriano, missed the cutoff man, allowing leadoff man Adam Eaton to score on the base hit to left field, making it 1-0.
For the next two innings, Villanueva bounced back, but ran into trouble again in the fourth, allowing another run on a pair of ground-rule-doubles – one by catcher Wil Nieves and the second by Cliff Pennington. Nieves continued his hot hitting, as he has posted a batting average above .360 since taking over the catching duties for the injured Miguel Montero.
Hill added his second RBI of the night with a deep solo home run off a hanging breaking ball in the bottom of the fifth, his fifth home run of the season.
That inning pushed Villanueva’s pitch count above 100, meaning Dale Sveum had to turn things over to the pen for the final four frames, just one night after a 12-inning marathon that saw the Cubs win, 7-6.
In five innings of work, the right-hander allowed three earned runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked three in a solid start after a rocky first inning that saw him throw over 35 pitches.
Chicago threatened in the top of the seventh after Schierholtz doubled into the right field corner to open the frame, and Arizona starter Wade Miley (7-8) issued a four-pitch walk to Gillespie. However, a one-hopper hit to third by Barney quickly turned into a 5-3 double play that squashed any hopes of a big inning. Castillo ensured the inning was not a complete waste, as he drove in Gillespie with an RBI double to center to cut the Arizona lead to 3-1.
As a team, the Cubs are 7-for-63 with runners in scoring position over the course of this road trip, and went 1-for-13 in Thursday’s action.
The loss drops Chicago to ten games below .500 with 62 games left in the 2013 campaign, although the squad managed a split of the four-game series with an Arizona team in the thick of a playoff race in the National League West.
Chicago will open a three-game series in San Francisco Friday night, with first pitch scheduled for 9:15 p.m. CDT. Edwin Jackson (6-11 5.03 ERA) will take on struggling Giants ace Matt Cain (6-6 5.00 ERA).