Cubs fans may be tired of the word “spoiler”, but the boys on the North Side found themselves in that position again on Monday evening. Jeff Samardzija took the mound to take on the Wild Card hopeful Pirates with the intent to finish the season strong and make the black and yellow earn the playoff spot in the process. Rewind back to Opening Day in Pittsburgh and you may recall that The Shark handled the Pirates on his way to a 3-1 win to start the 2013 season right. Samardzija certainly pitched well enough to mirror that performance to end the home portion of the year.
After allowing an early solo shot to Neil Walker to put the visitors ahead 1-0 in the top of the first, Samardzija settled down to navigate around five hits and four walks allowed. The Cubs aspiring ace countered the free passes with seven punch outs, keeping the Pirates to just that one run through six innings of work. Unfortunately for The Shark and the Cubs, Pirates starter Charlie Morton was just a little better. The young Bucs righty limited the home team to just three hits through seven frames. After dancing around a jam he created with a walk and a double in the second, Morton seemed to induce every Cub hitter into either striking out or grounding the ball to one of his infielders. The latter included a pair of twin killings to snuff out even a hope of a Cubs rally.
If the pitching duel was not enough to fancy your interest on a September night, the boys in blue pinstripes finally came through with a game tying rally against the Pirates bullpen. The Cubs used a pair of singles to get to reliever Mark Melancon, with Donnie Murphy collecting the RBI knock.
That brought in back of the bullpen right hander Kevin Gregg to keep the game tied in the top of the ninth. After he voiced his displeasure for losing save opportunities to youngster Pedro Stropp to team management, the veteran journeyman reliever served of a go ahead solo moon shot to the left field bleachers. A hanging slider did in Gregg, leading to a bad stretch of days for the goggle eyed pitcher. To be fair to number 63, he did strike out the first two batters he faced and closed out the inning with a K.
But the drama did not end there. Give credit to the Cubs for making the Pirates sweat and earn their push for a long awaited playoff spot. With one out, Dioner Navarro earned a walk after taking a 3-2 pitch that replays showed the umpire missed. The Cubs then had a revolving door of runners at first, with Logan Watkins pinch running for Navarro, before he was replaced by Nate Schierholtz on a broken bat fielders choice grounder. Ryan Sweeney then placed a clean single into the right center field gap and that is when the fun began. Former Cub Marlon Byrd could not pluck the ball off the grass and that gave the Cubs third base coach reason to send Schierholtz home as the tying run. However All Star Andrew McCutchen had wisely backed up Byrd. The Pirates center fielder alertly picked up the loose ball and fired it back towards the infield. Justin Morneau was the middle man and he ensured the ball got to his catcher Russell Martin to snag the tying run at the plate.
While the result of another loss is not fun by any means, the expectations for the 2013 Cubs have been well known to be low for a while now. With that in mind, the paying customers at Wrigley Monday night did get their moneys worth in drama, even if it was sort of a win.