The Cubs are now left to cursing their luck and searching for answers.
Granted, they did stage a spirited comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday, scoring two runs, but they came up one short in a 6-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Wrigley Field, spoiling the Fourth of July for most in the season-high home crowd of 42,046.
The Rays broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth, scoring five runs against starting pitcher Jon Lester and knocking the Cubs back under .500 at 41-42.
First for the cursing of the luck.
“Eight of the nine hits were groundballs through the infield,” said Lester, who fell to 5-5 with a 3.94 ERA. “Bad luck, may be bad pitches. I don’t know. Eight hits were on the ground. I’ll take that.”
Lester repeated the “eight hits on the ground” line so many times that he apologized for sounding like “a broken record.”
He gave up a two-run homer to Tim Beckham in the fateful fourth and a two-run double to Steven Souza Jr. on a ball that hit Lester in the glove and bounded into center field.
So after an emotionally uplifting victory last Thursday at Washington against a first-place Nationals team, the Cubs have lost three of four to the Reds and Rays. Former Cubs prospect Chris Archer got the win with six innings of three-run ball, improving to 7-5 with a 3.95 ERA.
“I don’t’ know, I don’t have the definitive answer,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, who seems as baffled as anyone as to why the defending world champions can’t get on a run.
“On our side, it would be nice to start hitting, scoring more runs. If you can outslug the other team, great, but our pitchers have been great.
“It just feels like we’re just not clicking at the same time. We’ll figure it out. I think we have a great team, a great pitching staff, guys that compete and really want to do well. I think when you have those ideas in your head, then things turn out the way you want them to.”
Lester worked five innings, and after the fourth, he and the bullpen did not give up another hit. They scored twice in the ninth, on an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo and a forceout by Ben Zobrist. Jason Heyward, already with an RBI single fresh off the disabled list, flied out to end the game with two runners aboard.
“We did so many things good, had some great at-bats, and I really believe the hits are there, they’re going to come in those situations,” said manager Joe Maddon. “That last inning, good at-bat after good at-bat. Continually get guys on base, that’s been our M.O. all season long, seeing a lot of pitches. But we still haven’t been consistent with the RBI hit, but I really believe that’s forthcoming.”
That gets us back to Lester and luck. He said both the starting pitchers and relievers aren’t “getting away” with mistakes this year as they might have last year.
“As a starting staff, you need to get away with mistakes sometimes,” he said. “That’s the difference between a good and a bad season sometimes.”
While not calling for the front office to make a trade, Lester did say: “You can always use a boost. That’s always a positive in a clubhouse. Obviously, you never want to see some of your guys go the other way (in a trade), but anytime that the front office believes that, ‘Hey, this piece will help us get over that hump,’ that’s always a boost to the clubhouse.”