With the Cubs trailing 2-1 with one out in the top of the eighth and Jordy Mercer running home, Starlin Castro had a choice.
After Castro went to shortstop to begin the inning, Starling Marte hit a high chopper with the infield drawn in. Castro jumped slightly to make the play and instead of going home, he let Mercer score without a throw and went to first to get Marte for the second out.
At first, manager Joe Maddon thought Castro might have had a play at home but wasn’t sure.
“The only way we would have known is had he thrown the ball to the plate,” Maddon said. “It would have been bang-bang at best. It had to be like a throw right on the money, I think down.
“I don’t know. When the ball was hit I thought he did, but retrospectively I’m not sure.”
The run gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead and became important when the Cubs scored once in the ninth but couldn’t get another, losing 3-2.
The Cubs getting one run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon was good. He picked up his 51st save of the season, and the run snapped a streak of nine consecutive hitless and scoreless appearances for the Pittsburgh right-hander.
But it could have been better. Both Jorge Soler and Javier Baez struck out to strand Castro and the tying run at third, leaving the Cubs 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and with seven left on base.
“If you look at our team in general with runner on third and less than two outs we’re not really good,” Maddon said. “Just try to just get the run in. Doesn’t have to be over the fence. There may have to be an adjustment. I say move the ball, move the ball.
“We have to get better at moving the ball in that moment and force the defense to play, and if you’re able to do that you’re going to get that ugly hit or that high chopper like they did, as an example.”
The Cubs entered Friday hitting .237 with runners in scoring position.
Home away from home
It didn’t make anything official, but it’s looking less and less likely the Cubs will be hosting the wild card playoff. The Pirates extended their lead to 4 1/2 games for the top spot, making it probable the Cubs will have to travel to Pittsburgh and PNC Park on Oct. 7.
David Ross wouldn’t be too bothered by playing in Pittsburgh. He doesn’t think the game’s location is important.
“It’s not, in my mind. My personal opinion,” Ross said. “We’ve played good at their place. We’ve played pretty strong in Pittsburgh.”
The Cubs are 6-4 at PNC Park.