Cubs suffer first home shutout vs. Bucs
Friendly Confines prove inhospitable to punchless offense
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella said before Friday's game that he didn't expect a letdown after sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers. It just looked that way.
Jason Michaels drove in two runs, including one on a solo homer, and Jeff Karstens threw six shutout innings to lead the new-look Pittsburgh Pirates to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs, who were shut out at home for the first time this season.
The Cubs didn't have much of a scouting report against Karstens (1-0), whom the Pirates acquired from the New York Yankees in the Xavier Nady deal. Friday was his first big league appearance this year, and he gave up five hits, walked four and struck out two over six innings.
Maybe the Cubs didn't get as fired up against the Pirates, now 13 1/2 games back and retooling their roster for 2009.
"You can say that [there was a letdown]," Chicago's Jim Edmonds said, "but I think you have to give their pitcher credit. He pitched a great game. We'd never seen him, we didn't have much footage, and from what we saw, he definitely looked better than what we saw on video.
"I can't say 100 percent that we didn't have a letdown," Edmonds said, "but you have to give that kid credit. He deserves it."
Piniella seemed upset at the notion. The Cubs hurt themselves by hitting into four double plays, going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranding eight.
"I don't see why there should be a hangover [after the Milwaukee series]," Piniella said. "There's 54 games to go. You get a hangover this quick, I don't think that's an excuse. Give their pitchers credit. They pitched a good ballgame, they played well and they beat us."
Bottom line, they didn't execute.
"We played a good ballgame, we just didn't hit," Aramis Ramirez said. "We had a lot of guys on base and we just didn't get key hits with men in scoring position. When you do that, you're not going to win ballgames."
Jason Marquis (6-7) took the loss, which snapped Chicago's winning streak at five games. He gave up three runs on eight hits over six innings.
"I made some quality pitches early on," Marquis said. "They were finding holes with ground balls. For the most part, I was happy with the way things went and tried to keep my team in the game as much as possible."
The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, and Karstens got Geovany Soto to fly out to center, ending the threat. Chicago had two on with two outs in the fifth, but Kosuke Fukudome hit into a force at second. Double plays ended the eighth and ninth innings.
"Obviously, we have to be a little better at situational hitting, but I think that's the team we are," Edmonds said. "Hopefully, we can get away from that as we go deeper in the season."
The Pirates had two on and one out in the second, and Michaels and Jack Wilson hit back-to-back RBI singles to take a 2-0 lead. Michaels made it 3-0 with his sixth homer with two outs in the sixth.
That was all Karstens needed. The Cubs may face the young right-hander again this year.
"If you go up your first time, and hit a first-pitch fastball and ground out, you don't even know what he's got," Edmonds said. "I had a bad first at-bat. It was something I'd never seen before. Each time you go up, he could feature something different. Sometimes, you have to tip your hat."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.