CHICAGO -- Baseball, for those passionate about it, is a sport overrun with regrets, and the Pirates had more than their fill after a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs yesterday at Wrigley Field.
Almost all of them in the pivotal second inning.
"There's no question," manager John Russell said. "If some things had gone different for us early, it might have been a different game."
Top of the second ...
Ryan Doumit led off with a double off Chicago starter Ted Lilly, and Andy LaRoche worked a seven-pitch walk. But Steve Pearce struck out flailing at a pitch more than a foot outside.
Brandon Moss worked a full-count walk to load the bases. But Chris Gomez struck out swinging at another pitch well outside.
Maholm's infield single brought one run. But Luis Rivas struck out on a check-swing at another pitch that was ... well, figure it out.
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (4-8, 6.04) vs. RHP Carlos Zambrano (12-4, 2.80).
- Key matchup: Do not let Zambrano get ahead: Opponents are 3 for 36 when he gets an 0-2 count and batting .168 when he gets two strikes in any count.
- Of note: The Pirates' bullpen has allowed 21.3 percent of its inherited runners to score, lowest in Major League Baseball. The Cubs rank second, at 21.7.
Two hits, two walks, bases left loaded, just a 1-0 lead to show for it, and several red faces.
"Lilly did a good job of hiding the ball," Rivas said.
"There was some deception, you could see, on his pitches low and away to right-handed hitters," Russell said. "But we didn't get the big hit. If we scored some runs early, everything might have changed."
Lilly would shake off that 38-pitch inning and last one out into the seventh, allowing four singles the rest of the way.
"You can only get away with that one so many times," Lilly said.
Bottom of the second ...
Aramis Ramirez dropped a bloop double into shallow left, and Reed Johnson singled him to third. Maholm reached back for extra zip to strike out Mark DeRosa, though, and limited Geovany Soto to an RBI groundout.
The damage was minimal to that point, and the No. 8 hitter was due up with two open bases.
Not this time.
Russell elected to allow Maholm to pitch carefully to .277 batter Ronny Cedeno rather than walk him and face the pitcher Lilly, who spent most of his career in the American League and has a .195 average this year.
As fate would have it, Cedeno lined an RBI single into center that brought the Cubs a 2-1 lead the never relinquished.
Oh, and Lilly did make that third out, looking terribly overmatched while fanning under high heat.
As Russell explained, his reasoning for pitching to the No. 8 hitter in that situation early in games -- something he has done often -- is to afford his starter the chance to open the following inning with an easy out.
"That early, yeah, we'd like to keep the lineup in our favor. Most times, it's worked for us," Russell said. "Paul didn't get the pitch where he wanted, and they got a hit out of it."
Maholm said that, even though no intentional walk was ordered, he deliberately pitched around Cedeno. But, when a 2-2 breaking pitch caught a bit of the plate to run the count full, he decided to try for the out with a slider that would run in on the right-handed batter.
Check that: A good slider.
Maholm was visibly steamed the moment Cedeno's ball found the outfield grass, and that did not subside much afterward.
"This was all about Cedeno's AB," he said. "I've got Lilly on deck. I know it. I didn't want to throw him a strike. I didn't even want to get close. And I threw it right down the middle. ... That pretty much sums up how the location went for me all day."
Maholm had a 2.76 ERA since May 31 entering this one, but he was charged with five runs on eight hits and two walks in six innings. He struck out 21 in his previous three starts, just two yesterday. And, most bothersome to him, he elevated pitches to Mark DeRosa, Soto and Alfonso Soriano on key hits later that built Chicago's lead up to 5-1.
"When the ball was up, they got hits. When I made my pitches, I got ground balls," Maholm said. "It was just me kind of out of sync and not making my pitch. But it happens. I'm still confident going into the next one."
Doumit finished 3 for 4 with two doubles, marking his 29th multiple-hit game.
Of the newcomers: LaRoche went 0 for 3 with a walk, and played sound defense that included two 5-4-3 double plays. One of his outs chased Soriano close to the ivy in left, and several observers -- including Lilly -- said it would have been a home run if not for a potent wind blowing in. Brandon Moss took his place in left field for the first time, reached base three times -- single and two walks -- and struck out.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 3, 2008 4:00 AM