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Pirates beat Cubs to delay playoff party

Don’t worry. The Cubs will be in the playoffs. Even after losing to the Pirates 3-2 on Friday, there was little doubt they will be in the postseason to cap one of the most entertaining seasons in franchise history.

They just didn’t take advantage of their first chance to celebrate in front of their home fans.

Manager Joe Maddon didn’t think that would deflate his team too much. Sure, a clinching victory would have been memorable, but it isn’t like the Cubs needed to win to save their season.

It was a loss that gave the Pirates a 4½-game lead over the Cubs for the first wild-card spot, but it wasn’t much more than a defeat that will sting for a little while.

“You always get that feeling after you’ve lost a game, regardless of when it is, but I don’t sense anything negative from our group,” Maddon said. “Our group’s fabulous. Our group comes ready to play every day.”

They’ll be ready for an early start Saturday — the first pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. to accommodate Fox’s broadcast — but they’ll have gone to bed without knowing their fate. The Giants, who were 9½ games behind the Cubs, visited the Athletics late Friday.

Maddon said he’d check the score only if he woke up for certain reasons.

“Probably when I have to go to the bathroom at night, actually,” he said.

David Ross said he’d rather wait to celebrate Saturday.

“We’ve got a day game,” Ross said. “These old bones don’t get up too early after having a late night of drinks.”

The Cubs are in this position after the emergence of Jake Arrieta as one of the best pitchers in baseball, the development of rookies Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and the continuing rise of Anthony Rizzo.

The Cubs had a chance to win in the ninth inning and clinch in the appropriate way. With the Pirates leading 3-1 and closer Mark Melancon on the mound, Chris Denorfia doubled. One out later, Starlin Castro tripled to score Denorfia. Sensing the possibility of a special moment, most of the 40,432 in attendance were on their feet.

Instead, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez struck out to end the game. But that didn’t dash the bigger hopes of a team that has rallied many times before.

“They’ve been doing it all year,” said Jon Lester (10-12), who went seven innings and allowed two runs. “That’s nothing new for us.”

It’s also nothing new for the Cubs to see Gerrit Cole (18-8) and the Pirates perform the way they did, moving a season-high 34 games above .500

Arrieta has earned his team’s confidence with one of the best seasons in Cubs history and a second half bordering on miraculous. He has thrown a no-hitter and is in the running for the Cy Young Award.

But as good as Arrieta has been, he wouldn’t be the only ace in a wild-card game against the Pirates. If anybody needed reminding, Cole proved that by throwing seven strong innings, allowing one run and striking out eight. He gave the Cubs a preview of what they’ll be getting after they do celebrate.

“The big thing was their pitcher, and how do we beat their pitcher,” Maddon said. “That was the concern. He’s all of that. He’s that good.”

A celebration would have been good, as well. But it wasn’t essential.

“We’ll be all right,” Dexter Fowler said. “We’ve got plenty of baseball to play.”

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.