Justin Morneau was at home plate beneath about half of a harvest moon when this notation went into my notebook:
"Where is the long ball?"
This was in the fourth inning Friday night, with the reliably dreadful Chicago Cubs leading the Pirates by three runs, and with a curious chill having befallen the purveyors of big-bang offense not only locally but across this great land.
Morneau was just a reminder, as it happened, mostly because he still had the same 17 home runs with which he arrived from Minnesota two weeks ago, and then he tapped weakly to the mound for the second out of the inning.
But the Morneau No More Homers Watch was nothing compared to the wait for Pedro Alvarez, the National League home run leader who had gone 15 games without rounding the bases, and even that wasn't much when you consider that the league's No. 2 banger -- Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt -- had gone 20 games without a homer.
When the league's top two sluggers string a combined 35 consecutive games together without leaving the park, I guess you get the kind of historical aberration that could easily go into the record books here in little more than two weeks.
Alvarez could become the first person to lead the league with fewer than 35 home runs (in a non-strike year) since 1946, unless either he or Goldschmidt or perhaps Cincinnati's Jay Bruce gets around to preventing it.
All of that considered, there was Alvarez -- barely a minute later -- arching a Jake Arrieta pitch off the top of the wall in deepest right-center field, then galloping around third at the behest of coach Nick Leyva and scoring standing up when second baseman Darwin Barney couldn't turn a relay throw.
There was no error on the play, so Alvarez's 33rd home run was the first inside-the-parker of his career, if not the last, but there was even less time to ponder that because Russell Martin launched Arrieta's next pitch into a more conventional home run orbit, well into the seats in left, and just as suddenly the Pirates had begun to do what you're supposed to do to Arrieta and his 5.63 big-league ERA: Hit him hard.
They let him off the hook in the first inning when Morneau struck out and Alvarez tapped to first with Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen on base, and they permitted him to retire 10 in a row after that.
But Garrett Jones felt the tide shifting; he looked at an Arrieta curveball for strike one, but he did not look at another -- he rode it into the seats above the ketchup bottle in center field and the Pirates had back-to-back-to-back homers for the first time in 10 years.
What, somebody was wondering where had all the boom-boom-boom gone?
The Pirates, who had hit three homers in the previous nine days, had just hit three on four pitches. That kind of thing hadn't happened in Pittsburgh in 58 years, but all it meant for the moment was a 3-3 tie on a night when there were, ultimately, one too many homers.
A Chicago error on an Alvarez grounder two innings later allowed McCutchen to race home with the go-ahead run, but when Jason Grilli issued a two-out walk to Luis Valbuena in the seventh and Anthony Rizzo rode his flat 1-0 slider into the night for that one homer too many, the Cubs were situated for the 5-4 win and Clint Hurdle found himself searching for perhaps more definitive answers not about long balls, but about two persisting pitching issues -- namely Grilli and Charlie Morton.
"I think Charlie's gonna be fine," Hurdle said. "I just think it was his first time back [from a foot injury] and his pace was a little quicker than normal. He did show some good sinkers, but the ball wasn't on the ground with the consistency that we have seen in the past. He threw more fly balls. I think he probably learned some things, as well, tonight.
"I think Grilli, we gotta keep getting him out there and get him the opportunity to fine-tune some things."
In the meantime, a prime opportunity was ignored Friday night. The Cubs wobbled into town having lost 20 of their past 30. Were it not for the Miami Marlins, the Cubs would be the worst club in the league. When you don't beat 'em on the maybe one night per decade when you get back-to-back-to-back homers, that could well be something that comes with a stubborn aftertaste.genecollier
Gene Collier: email@example.com.