By Nate Barnes
Contributor to CSNChicago.com
For the second time in three nights, the Chicago Cubs (63-85) took a one-run lead early but couldn’t hang on in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates (86-62). Scott Baker pitched six innings in his second start since his return from Tommy John surgery, but allowed the game-tying home run to Jose Tabata in his final frame on the mound.
Baker allowed just a run on the home run, alongside three hits and four strikeouts. He threw 75 pitches, and walked none.
“Of course getting to do something I enjoy doing that, I guess in a way, was taken away from me for a little bit so it’s definitely fun to go out there and compete, first and foremost,” Baker said. “When you give your team a chance to win, that’s really all you can do.”
The Cubs were able to touch Pittsburgh rookie Gerrit Cole for a run in the first.
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Starlin Castro led off the game with a single to right, and Anthony Rizzo later walked to put men on first and second with one out.
Nate Schierholtz doubled to right-center field and Castro scored, but Rizzo was thrown out at home trying to score from first. Schierholtz advanced to third on the throw home, but was stranded there when Ryan Sweeney grounded out back to Cole.
Cole proceeded to lock the Cubs’ offense down for the next innings, and allowed one run on five hits and three walks in his seven total innings. Cole struck out seven Cubs batters.
Opposite Cole, Baker kept Chicago in the lead for almost his entire outing until Tabata homered with one out in the bottom of the sixth.
Before that, the Pirates only posted a pair of hits off Baker in separate innings and did not advance any man into scoring position. Baker kept the Pirates off-balance for just about his entire start, and prevented Pittsburgh from putting big swings on the ball until Tabata was able to connect.
“He didn’t give up a lot of hard contact either, it was good. He pitched a great game,” manager Dale Sveum said.
Chicago almost answered in the top of the seventh when Brian Bogusevic walked and Welington Castillo singled. Darwin Barney bunted to move the men to second and third with one out, but Cole struck pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro out swinging and induced a groundout from Castro to turn back the threat.
The at-bat by Navarro put Cole’s ability on full display for Sveum.
“That at-bat against Navarro, that’s what you see, is what you get with the power and the savvy at a young age,” Sveum said.” That power arm, and to know Navi and how he set that at-bat up and just rare back and go 97, 98, that’s a pretty nice asset to have.”
James Russell entered in the seventh for the Cubs to try to preserve a 1-1 tie, but left a two-seam fastball over the middle of the outside half of the plate and Marlon Byrd hit home run no. 23 of the season to right-center field.
As a result of Byrd’s home run, Russell (1-6) took the loss.
“You wish it would be a single once in a while,” Sveum said. “A single you can deal with, obviously, with Alvarez coming up and Villanueva sitting in the wings for the rest of the right-handers.”
Baker kept the Cubs in the game, but the offense just couldn’t push across enough support against Cole.
“We had a couple chances, but that’s what power does,” Sveum said. “It limits damage sometimes because they can get strikeouts. That’s the magic of power, velocity, and power breaking balls.”