October 5, 2022

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Bucs look to regroup after 'one of those days'

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CHICAGO — Well. That happened.

The Pirates lost to the Cubs, 21-0, on Saturday at Wrigley Field. It was the most lopsided loss in franchise history. It was an afternoon that will be remembered only in infamy, if not agony. There are no coatings of sugar, no linings of silver. It was, to over-simplify, a bad day.

“We’ve got to flush this one,” said manager Derek Shelton. “We just didn’t play well. There’s no way around it. We just didn’t play a good ballgame. They played a good game. Flush it and try to win the series tomorrow.”

The timing of this loss is eerie. Almost 12 years ago to the date, on April 22, 2010, the Pirates lost to the Brewers, 20-0. The baseball gods must think of themselves as a comedic bunch. That contest, though, is now reduced to silver-medal status.

This was not one of those blowouts where the game was semi-competitive until devolving into madness. Pittsburgh didn’t need much time to realize this game was going to be an excruciatingly painful three-hour exercise. That realization came in the second inning when the wheels fell off, the brakes stopped working, the water pump broke and the engine imploded.

The onslaught began with a flurry of singles off Zach Thompson, the wearer of this loss. Nico Hoerner. Then Rafael Ortega. Then Seiya Suzuki. Then Wilson Contreras. They weren’t hit all that hard. They just found green grass. That’s baseball. The ones that were playable weren’t played. That’s also baseball.

Kevin Newman misplayed Ian Happ’s grounder. After Patrick Wisdom walked, Newman misplayed Jonathan Villar’s grounder. The inning could’ve been over. The damage could’ve been limited. Thompson could’ve lived to see the third inning. Instead, Alfonso Rivas provided the knockout blow: a three-run home run. Thompson was done. So was the game. There were innings to play, but the game was over.

“[Newman] is a good defender,” Shelton said. “Today, he didn’t have a good game. But no real concerns there. We just didn’t play well today.”

Baseball can be cruel, twisted. Thompson can attest after a game like this. The right-hander wanted soft contact. He got it. The batted balls that Thompson generated had an average exit velocity of 85 mph. The monkey’s paw curled.

“I think that’s what we were pushing for going into this start is to make sure I get ground balls and get weak contact, and we did that,” Thompson said. “It’s just one of those days.”

The rest of the game was a blur. Two runs in the fourth. Five runs in the fifth. One run in the seventh. Four runs in the eighth off Diego Castillo, who was informed in the sixth inning to be ready. The Cubs didn’t push for extra runs. They didn’t take extra bases when presented with the opportunity. The runs poured in anyways. The fans cheered for every run, but the ferocity, the fervor in their tones shifted with the result in hand.

“You just have to pass it over your head and move onto the next one,” Thompson said.

Not to be lost in the shuffle of misery was the relief outing of Aaron Fletcher. The Pirates needed someone to take on innings, to keep the rest of the bullpen fresh. Fletcher provided. He allowed one run across 2 2/3 innings, the longest outing of his Major League career. Fletcher was the closest thing to a positive. Shelton called the performance “huge.” It’s an outing that will be buried in the avalanche.

If there’s any saving grace, this game, despite how historically bad it was, counts for just one loss in the standings all the same. Pittsburgh can ease the anguish with a win Sunday and take the series. But the record books won’t forget what happened on a forgettable Saturday afternoon. The Pirates will attempt to move on, even if history won’t allow.

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