CHICAGO -- Clint Hurdle considered the present his Pirates players had given him for his 55th birthday, and the Pittsburgh manager said, "You shouldn't have."They really shouldn't have. But the Bucs can't take back their worst game of the season, Monday night's 14-4 loss to the Cubs, as if it was a sweater of the wrong color. "In 162 games, you're gonna have them. There's no way around it," Hurdle said, unconcerned, after the Bucs missed taking advantage of the end of the Cincinnati Reds' 10-game winning streak. Early in this game, while his team still had it in control, Hurdle had looked up at the center-field scoreboard and the "9" in the Angels' sixth inning jumped out at him. "Hey, that was probably a hard inning," Hurdle remembered saying at the time. "Then we walk, play and pitch through one an inning later." That did happen, as Anthony Rizzo's three-run homer and a two-run blow by Starlin Castro fueled a festive nine-run fifth at Wrigley Field. That was an inning after Darwin Barney had hit a go-ahead three-run homer. Thereafter, the only intrigue remaining for the Bucs was: Would they hit a home run for a 20th consecutive road game to tie MLB's longest streak of this century? No, they would not, adding to the "total loss" tone of the night. The tone-setter was Erik Bedard, whose start turned into a dark checklist of season lows. Most runs allowed? Check.
Most runs allowed in one inning? Check.
Biggest margin of defeat? Check. "They hit good pitches. They hit bad pitches. Unfortunately, some of them went over the fence," said Bedard, who, pitching with two extra days of rest, felt stronger than usual in getting seven of his 13 outs on strikes. "The harder you throw them, the harder they hit them." "His fastball velocity spiked a few times," said Hurdle, citing speeds up to 93 mph. "He was fresh, with those couple extra days of rest. Really, he just got a couple pitches in the wrong spots that they connected with. Three-run homers will finish you in a hurry." Through one out in the fourth, Bedard (5-12) appeared in complete control. He had a 2-1 lead, and of the 13 batters he had faced, only three had reached base. From that point on, however, the lefty got only three more outs -- and gave up eight more runs. Six of them resulted from the three-run homers in back-to-back innings by Barney and Rizzo. The Cubs' fifth-inning assault continued against the first arm of relief as they added four more runs against Chris Resop. Tony Watson followed with two sharp innings, allowing one run while picking up three strikeouts, and Jared Hughes put up a zero in the eighth. Before Watson and Hughes quieted things down, the Bucs had already bookended Sunday's 9-5 loss in Houston with another disappointing effort. For a team that had begun the day with the Majors' best record since May 25 (38-19), such back-to-back losses clearly have been rare. But it did happen in mid-June, when the Pirates were swept in Baltimore while being outscored 27-13. "They were looking at us cross-eyed when we left Baltimore. 'Man, your pitchers are getting really hammered,'" Hurdle recalled. He volunteered that recollection because he also recalls how the Pirates recoiled: 14 wins out of their next 20 games. "Sometimes these things grab you," Hurdle said. "We shower well. We'll get 'em tomorrow." In the first, Chicago's leadoff batter Reed Johnson (not for long; he would be removed in the middle of the game upon being dealt to the Braves) took a funky, half-hearted swing at a strike three that sailed by catcher Michael McKenry for a wild pitch that enabled Johnson to reach first, from where he promptly scored on Castro's ringing double into the left-field corner. The Bucs capitalized on their first baserunner to tie the game. Clint Barmes singled with one away in the third, moved up on Bedard's sacrifice bunt and came home as Starling Marte lined a single to left. The Pirates took a brief lead, in typical advantageous fashion, in the fourth when the Cubs were not able to get two outs on an ideal smash to third by McKenry with the bases loaded and one out. The devolution of the double play began when second baseman Barney took Joe Mather's throw for the forceout but let it trickle out of his glove before relaying it to first. Thus Andrew McCutchen, who had begun the inning with a walk, scored from third for a 2-1 lead. Bedard couldn't keep it through the bottom of the inning. With one out, Jeff Baker singled, Geovany Soto walked and Barney made amends, smoking the full-count pitch over the ivy in left-center for his fifth homer and a 4-2 Chicago edge. "I actually felt really good out there," Bedard said following his 20th start -- a level he had reached only once previously since 2007. "So that's the positive out of it. We'll get them next time."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.