This feel-good stuff, it would appear, is getting a little stale for the Pirates.
Bottom of the ninth, down a run ...
Boom! A Jason Bay home run ties it.
Bottom of the 14th, down two runs ...
Boom! An Adam LaRoche two-run home run ties it.
But Phil Dumatrait's wildness and a bases-loaded single by Chicago's Felix Pie in the 15th finally put someone ahead for good, and the Cubs hung on, 6-4, last night at PNC Park.
"I can't say enough about what we did," Pirates manager John Russell said. "Zach Duke pitched great. Our bullpen was phenomenal again. We got those big hits. We just didn't win."
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Matt Morris (0-0, 5.40) vs. LHP Rich Hill (0-0, 3.00).
- Key matchup: Morris could have trouble with the heart of Chicago's order: Derrek Lee bats .355 off him, 11 for 31 with four home runs. Aramis Ramirez bats .326, 15 for 46 with three home runs.
- Of note: Nate McLouth has 16 hits, more than anyone in Major League Baseball.
Duke pitched seven solid innings, continuing to show good stuff -- six strikeouts, his highest total in nearly two years -- and limiting Chicago to one run despite eight hits.
He was asked if there is a difference in his pitching with baserunners this season and gave a telling answer.
"I'm just making better quality pitches overall," Duke said.
The Pirates mustered next to nothing off the Cubs' Ryan Dempster, who cruised through his seven innings with just a Bay single on his line.
Chicago added a run off Franquelis Osoria in the eighth and led, 2-0, but Nate McLouth's double in the bottom half reduced the lead to one.
Bay took care of the rest with one swing in the ninth, driving Kerry Wood's 2-1 fastball -- 94 mph, and over the outer corner, right at catcher Geovany Soto's glove -- into the seats beyond right-center field.
It was 2-2, and what remained of the sparse crowd of 9,735 celebrated in kind.
It also was Bay's first home run, part of a three-hit, one-walk game that the Pirates have to hope represents a breakout from a .182 start.
"There were a couple little glitches in my swing," Bay said. "For the most part, though, it was a matter of feeling comfortable."
"We knew he was getting close," Russell said. "He took some very nice swings up there. He looked aggressive. And that's nice to see. He's a big part of our offense."
Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Matt Capps and Tyler Yates again were exemplary in relief, and Dumatrait added a zero in the Chicago 13th.
In the 14th, though, after a two-out walk to Derrek Lee, Dumatrait left a two-strike changeup over the plate for Aramis Ramirez, and he lined it into the left-field bleachers to put the Cubs ahead, 4-2.
Game over, Part 2, right?
Bay's one-out infield single off Kevin Hart brought LaRoche to the box with the heaviest of baggage: He was 0 for April, having registered his only two hits in the March 31 season opener, and had gone hitless in 25 consecutive at-bats.
This time, he waited through two balls, then sent a flat slider -- "the same pitch I've been fouling off all year" -- inside the right-field foul pole to make it 4-4.
It was his first home run, too, meaning the Pirates' Nos. 3-4 hitters finally went deep together.
"Felt good," LaRoche said. "Mostly, it felt good because we were back in the ballgame again."
Not for long.
After one out in the Chicago 15th, Dumatrait walked Soto on five pitches. Kevin Hart grounded into what might have been a 4-6-3 double play, but Soto took out shortstop Luis Rivas with a hard slide.
A wild pitch advanced both runners, so the Pirates intentionally walked Alfonso Soriano to load the bases for Pie, and he hooked Dumatrait's 0-1 changeup into shallow left for a two-run single.
Half of the Pirates' eight games have gone to extra innings, three of them 12 or more, with this being the longest. They are 2-2 in extras, 3-5 overall.
Again, the postgame emphasis -- universally expressed -- was on the positive, undoubtedly because the Monday home opener saw the Pirates rally from a seven-run deficit only to lose, 10-8, in the 12th.
"We could have laid down and played dead a few times," Russell said. "But we kept coming."
Or, as Duke put it, "We battled and battled and battled."
"It's just eight games, so it's a small sample size, but the atmosphere here is very different," Bay said. "It's nothing you can really put your finger on. But there were points in this game where it looked like we had no chance, and we kept giving ourselves chances."
On the other hand ...
"Maybe it would be better if we were the ones playing with the lead," McLouth said.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .