Another large crowd witnessed another Pirates loss Saturday night, the latest in a rough five-week span as the end of the season nears and the time to earn a playoff spot runs out.
Saturday lacked Friday's dysfunction on defense, but the Pirates lost, 4-3, to the Chicago Cubs in front of 35,661 at PNC Park, ensuring the Pirates of a series defeat.
The Pirates have now lost six of their past eight games. The Los Angeles Dodgers won Saturday and moved a game ahead of the Pirates in the National League wild card race.
The Cubs broke a tie in the eighth, which began with a Welington Castillo single off Jason Grilli. Grilli retired the next two batters but walked Tony Campana to reach David DeJesus, who singled to right. Alex Presley's throw to the plate arrived on target, but not in time to get Castillo, who slid ahead of Michael McKenry's tag to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead.
The Pirates had tied the game in the seventh. Starlin Castro fielded Rod Barajas' grounder to short and threw it away, putting the tying run on second with two outs. Josh-Harrison pinch-ran for Barajas and pinch-hitter Jeff Clement roped a single off the wall in right field, scoring Harrison and tying the game at 3-3.
The single was Clement's first major league hit since 2010.
Jeff Samardzija pitched a complete game.
James McDonald recovered from his previous outing and pitched well, but exited the game with the Pirates trailing. McDonald finished 52/3 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits.
He had alternated good and bad outings during his past five starts, with his previous start falling on the bad side. He allowed eight runs, seven earned, on six hits, four of them home runs, in 22/3 innings Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Samardzija opened the door for the Pirates' offense in the first inning, but shut it for five innings after that. He worked with a fastball that touched 97 miles per hour and a slider and sinker that crossed the plate in the mid-80s.
The Pirates forced Samardzija to pitch from behind out of the gate. Brock Holt singled and went to second on Starling Marte's sacrifice bunt. Samardzija hit Andrew McCutchen and walked Garrett Jones to load the bases for Pedro Alvarez, who singled to center and scored two runs.
Alfonso Soriano halved the lead in the second inning when he sent McDonald's first offering over the left-field wall for his 27th home run of the season. Welington Castillo doubled, but McDonald got two ground-outs to end the inning.
The Cubs continued to pressure McDonald in the third. Tony Campana, batting ninth because Samardzija hit eighth, singled, and David DeJesus' single put runners on first and third with none out. Luis Valbuena bounced a grounder up the middle that Clint Barmes fielded before stepping on second in stride and throwing to first for the double play, but Campana scored to tie the game.
McDonald then hit Anthony Rizzo in the back and home plate umpire Scott Barry warned both benches.
Alvarez doubled to lead off the bottom of the fourth, but found himself caught between second and third when Alex Presley grounded back to Samardzija. Samardzija ran down Alvarez for the out, and Presley was stranded on first.
The Cubs took the lead in the fifth. Campana doubled, then stole third. Valbuena flied out to left, scoring Campana and giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead.
The Pirates entered Saturday's game having caught 10 percent of runners attempting to steal, the worst mark in Major League Baseball.
The Cubs had a chance to add on in the sixth but could not take advantage. Starlin Castro walked on four pitches to start the inning and Darwin Barney singled. Samardzija bunted the runners to second and third, and with two outs, manager Clint Hurdle removed McDonald and brought Tony Watson on the face the left-handed Campana.
Watson forced Campana to ground out and strand the runners.
Jeff Locke starts Sunday for the Pirates in their attempt to avoid a series sweep.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 9, 2012 2:15 AM