If the ability to win close games defines good teams, the Cubs still have a ways to go before they can shed their old image.
After going 18-36 in one-run games in 2002, they fell to 0-3 in that category this season after a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Friday at Wrigley Field.
"It's our third one-run loss, which means we've been in almost every game," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Just one hit away. Just one play away, one pitch away from winning these games. We'll figure it out."
The one play Friday was Eric Karros' throwing error in the second inning that allowed an unearned run to score, giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead. It figured prominently when the Cubs crept to within 3-2 in the fourth, only to go 0-for-8 with men on base the rest of the way.
Carlos Zambrano (1-1) threw well in a losing effort, as the Cubs dropped to 5-5.
Baker shook up his lineup for the first time, inserting veteran center fielder Tom Goodwin in the leadoff spot, moving Sosa to cleanup and opting for Karros over Hee Seop Choi against right-hander Jeff D'Amico.
But except for Sosa and Alou hitting back-to-back doubles in the fourth, the offense was nonexistent against D'Amico and four relievers. Only one Cub walked, leaving them with 36 strikeouts and three walks in their last three games.
Baker likes his players to be aggressive on the basepaths, but it was the Pirates who used that trait to their advantage with a 2-0 lead in the second, testing the alertness of the Cubs infielders.
Pokey Reese never stopped running from first to third on a chopper to short. But instead of holding the ball with two outs and D'Amico on deck, Karros made an errant relay throw to third, allowing Reese to score the second run.
"For me the thing that's probably going to be difficult is getting into a rhythm defensively," Karros said. "It's not so much the play, but mentally that was absolutely an idiotic play with the pitcher on deck. That's why I won't sleep. I'm good for one mental screwup a year. I guess I already used mine."
Of the 42 runs Cubs pitchers have given up this season, 11 have been unearned. The Cubs began the day ranked third from last in National League fielding.
"I pride myself on my team playing good defense," Baker said. "We just have to concentrate a little harder and get our full game together."
Reese's sacrifice fly in the fourth made it 3-0 before Alou doubled home two runs in the bottom of the inning. Karros followed with a sharp liner to right, but it turned into a double play when Alou didn't wait to see if the ball was catchable.
The Cubs had one last chance in the ninth when Alou walked with one out, but Karros went after the first pitch of closer Mike Williams and grounded into a game-ending double play.
"Offensively I felt like I swung the bat pretty darn well, outside of the last at-bat," Karros said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun