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The Pirates exploded for six runs in the fourth inning to take a 6-4 lead into the 8th, but four relievers allowed three runs in the inning and the Bucs dropped their seventh straight game, 7-6, and were swept by the Cubs at home.

An old adage says, “It’s just not your day.”

For the Pirates, it hasn’t been their week. Or their month.

A ferocious six-run 4th inning barrage was wasted thanks to a three-run Chicago 8th inning rally, leading to a 7-6 loss, and a four-game sweep by the Cubs at PNC Park Thursday night.

A surprising crowd of 29,317 was on hand to watch the Pirates drop their seventh game in a row, and their 10th out of 11 games. With the loss, the Pirates are now 7 games out of first place in the N.L. Central standings.

Despite a rugged 4th inning, in which McDonald surrendered three runs off of two homers—including a Blake Dewitt two-run blast to right field—the right-hander pitched seven solid frames, and even helped his own cause in the bottom of the 4th, ripping a bases-clearing double to left-center with two outs, giving Pittsburgh a 5-4 lead. An Andrew McCutchen double scored McDonald with what would be the final run of the game for the Bucs.

McDonald finished the game tallying up a career-high seven innings pitched, with 99 pitches under his belt.

“I credit the little things,” said McDonald about bouncing back after the 4th inning, and throwing 3 hitless innings to close out his day. “Ray (Searge), Clint (Hurdle), the catchers, and everybody who talked to me and told me, time after time when I was in that kind of situation things I need to do and things I need to focus on. I just remembered the things they told me, relaxed, went out there and just acted like it was 0-0. I can’t give up on the mound up there. I still got my guys out there competing for me, so the best I can do is keep competing and keep them in the game; and show them that I want this as bad as they do. They had my back all year, so it’s the competitor in me to keep going.”

After the 6-run 4th inning, the Pirates tallied just three more hits, including a double by Garrett Jones (2 for 5 .237).

It was the heretofore consistently solid Pittsburgh bullpen that toppled over, surrendering three-runs in the top of the 8th inning.  

Reliever Daniel McCutchen loaded up the bases, including hitting Darwin Barney before exiting the game. Jason Grilli would then surrender an Aramis Ramirez base-hit to center field, scoring Reed Johnson. Another run scored when Joe Biemel walked a run in, before Jose Veras was able to pitch his way out of a bases-loaded, nobody out situation, but not before a sacrifice fly scored what proved to be the game-winner for the Cubs.

McCutchen, who got the loss Thursday night, did not get an out in the 8th inning.

“Two days rest, arguably he’s been as good as anybody out there getting the ball to (Joel) Hanrahan towards the end of the game,” said Hurdle about his decision to go with stick with McCutchen in the 8th.

“Wanted to stay away from (Chris) Resop; wanted to stay away from (Tony) Watson,” continued Hurdle. “(Jose) Veras himself had pitched back-to-back games. We talked about it before the game. If we had an opportunity we were going with McCutchen based on his performance, what he’s done and coming off of two-days rest. The inning just got more complicated from there.”

The Pirates used four relief pitchers after McCutchen, including an appearance from Hanrahan in the 9th inning.

McCutchen, Neil Walker (0 for 4), Pedro Alvarez (1 for 4) and Ryan Ludwick (1 for 4) all failed to reach base safely after the 4th inning.

The Line
Winning Pitcher:
Jeff Samardzija (6-4), 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 SO, 6.98 ERA, 13 pitches- 10 strikes.
Losing Pitcher: Daniel McCutchen (3-3), 0.0 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1BB, 2.70 ERA, 11 pitches- 7 strikes.
Save: Carlos Marmol (23)

James McDonald (7-5)
, 7.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 K, 3 HR, 4.23 ERA, 99 pitches- 64 strikes.
Rodrigo Lopez (2-3), 4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5.17 ERA, 71 pitches- 43 strikes.

Chicago Crushed
The Cubs left their damage in the PNC park outfield stands, crushing 10 home runs in the four game sweep. Chicago’s offense tallied up a total of 24 runs on 43 hits combined in the series.

“They have an offense that can hit,” said Hurdle about the power of the Cubs’ offense this series. “They have guys in there that have history of hitting home runs. We did miss a lot of locations. We missed a lot of areas, left balls in the middle of the plate. Balls were elevated and they were squared-up, center-cut.”

Extending the Skid
Including Thursday night, the Pirates have lost 10 of 11 games, and a season-high seven games in a row. Just 11 days ago Pittsburgh defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-1 in front of a nationally-televised audience (ESPN), and reclaimed first place in the NL Central standings.

“Through the course of a season, these things are going to happen,” said Biemel. “I think we are very capable of going on a streak where we win 10 or 11 in a row. We just have to believe that and hopefully, we can pull it together.”

Unlikely Hit
James McDonald’s career day went further than the mound. The 27-year old right-hander cracked a 3-run double in the 4th inning of tonight’s game, marking the first runs ever batted in for McDonald, who now stands with a .104 batting average on the year.

“It was a big hit. J-Mac works hard at that and the pitchers all take it seriously,” said Hurdle. “That was a big shot in the arm for the team, and his 7-inning outing was a big shot in the arm for the team. He pitched very well today. He pitched very, very good baseball.”

McDonald is now tied with Kevin Correia for the most RBI’s by a Pirates starter this year.

Don’t Give Up the Ship…Just Yet
While 7 games back on Aug. 4th may seem insurmountable in baseball, consider the following: Since 2005, 15 teams have come back from at least the same deficit to win their division and advance to the playoffs. Highlighted in that list were the Philadelphia Phillies, who won 9 of 10 games while the New York Mets dropped 5 of 12 in the final two weeks of the 2007 season. The Phillies were seven games back in early-September.

On Deck
The Pirates will host the San Diego Padres for a three-game homestand this weekend. Friday night will  showcase right hander Aaron Harang (9-3 3.76) taking on Jeff Karstens (8-5, 2.49).

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