The Pirates scored three runs within the game’s first four batters and got an outstanding start from Mitch Keller against some guys wearing Cubs’ uniforms. Unfortunately, the Pirates’ inept offense was blown away by a string of roster-filler relievers and Chad Kuhl had a major meltdown once Keller was out. The Pirates, with some help, rallied for two in the ninth, but their hitters fumbled away the free runners in the tenth and eleventh. Then Wilmer Difo fumbled away the game, handing the Cubs a 6-5 win.
The Bucs got off to a fast start. With one out in the first, Ben Gamel walked and took third on a single by Bryan Reynolds. Despite having a runner on third with fewer than two outs, Colin Moran lined one into the seats in left, his eighth home run of the year.
After taking the 3-0 lead, the Pirates settled into Pirate offense mode. The Cubs removed starter Keegan Thompson with two outs in the second, probably in part because he walked Keller. Former Pirate farmhand Adrian Sampson and his 5.53 career ERA came on to retire ten straight batters, four on strikes. A 27-year-old rookie named Scott Efross with two career innings came next. He retired six straight, another four on strikes.
Keller got off to an ominous start. The leadoff batter singled and took second when Difo managed to throw the ball away when he was returning it to Keller. A one-out single made it first and third, but Keller fanned the next two hitters.
And that was as challenging as it got for Keller. He allowed four more hits, all singles, and walked nobody. No other runner got past first. Keller fanned eight.
Unfortunately, Keller didn’t get a “W” out of it. Chad Kuhl, who’s done well so far in relief, came on for the seventh and quickly blew the lead, and then some. It took him four batters to cough up a game-tying, three-run bomb. Naturally Shelton left Kuhl in and the result, two batters later, was a two-run bomb. Not satisfied with Kuhl’s achievements to that point, Shelton left him in to give up a double to the next hitter. Shelton, you may recall, is the manager who takes starters out after 60-odd pitches because, he says, he’s trying to win games. Except when he’s not. After the double he finally went with Nick Mears, who got the last two outs on strikeouts.
In the eighth, the Pirates got their first baserunner against the Cubs’ teardown bullpen since the first. Reynolds walked with one out, but Moran bounced into a double play.
Mears had thrown only eight pitches, but Shelton went with Chris Stratton in the eighth because the Pirates have an eight-pitch maximum for relievers who aren’t getting bombed. Also, Mears isn’t experienced enough to get more experience. Fortunately, Stratton struck out three while walking one.
In the ninth, Jacob Stallings and Difo started the Pirates off with singles, then Anthony Alford fanned on three pitches outside the strike zone. But Hoy Park, batting for Phillip Evans, reached on catcher’s interference, of all things. Then Michael “.140-something” Perez, hitting for Stratton, singled to tie the game. That brought up Cole Tucker with one out and runners on the corners. Tucker already was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and this time he grounded into a double play.
David Bednar had an easy ninth and the game went into extras. The Pirates got their free runner, Tucker, to third with one out, but he was thrown out at the plate when Reynolds grounded to first. With Stratton gone, Bednar had to come out for a second inning. The Cubs got their own free runner to third with one out, but Bednar got two strikeouts to strand him there.
In the eleventh, the Pirates couldn’t even get their free runner past second. Sam Howard came on for the bottom half and the Cubs bunted their free runner to third. After an intentional walk, Howard got Ian Happ to hit a routine pop up. And Difo managed to misjudge it and let it tick off his glove for his second little league error of the game.