Pirates suffer costly loss to Cubs
Derrek Lee, left, celebrates with teammates after as he returns to the dugout after hitting a fourth-inning home run off Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano on Monday. (AP photo)
Lee, acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday night, knocked in all three Pittsburgh runs but it wasn’t enough as the Pirates lost for the sixth time in eight games. Ryan Ludwick, picked up by the Pirates just before the trade deadline, went 0 for 3 with a walk
Zambrano (8-6) picked up his 13th career win over Pittsburgh, tied with Aaron Harang for second-most among active pitchers. Zambrano struck out five and walked three while giving up seven hits. Carlos Marmol pitched a perfect ninth to collect his 21st save.
Paul Maholm (6-11) surrendered four runs on six hits in six innings, striking out three and walking three. He ran out of steam after getting hit by a line drive off the bat of teammate Garrett Jones in the sixth.
The Pirates, in first-place two weeks ago, are now just one game above .500 (54-53), the closest they’ve been to the break-even mark in a month.
Lee did his part to revitalize Pittsburgh’s slumping offense.
He belted a solo shot in the fourth and added a two-run homer to center in the eighth off Chicago reliever Kerry Wood, just the second time all season a Pirates player has gone deep twice in one game. He became the first Pirate to hit two homers in his Pittsburgh debut since Shawon Dunston did it against Cleveland on Sept. 2, 1997.
Maholm had little trouble through the first five innings, allowing just one run on Jeff Baker’s sacrifice fly but ran into trouble after reaching first on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the fifth. Jones slashed a line drive right at Maholm as the pitcher led off first and the ball drilled Maholm in the torso.
It did more than just end the inning, it seemed to end Maholm’s effectiveness.
Castro and Baker hit consecutive singles to start the sixth and Geovany Soto followed with a double down the left-field line. Maholm intentionally walked Marlon Byrd to load the bases with no out. Alfonso Soriano grounded to short but beat out the attempted double-play throw as Baker scored. Carlos Pena added a sacrifice fly to push Chicago’s lead to three.
That was enough for the Cubs, who won their second straight following a five-game skid.
Zambrano improved to 8-1 all-time at PNC Park and shook off a shaky July with his best outing — by the numbers anyway — since early June. He had trouble with his command, throwing just 66 of his 114 pitches for strikes, but the Pirates failed to take advantage.
Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez had two hits apiece for Pittsburgh but the Pirates left seven runners on base and again failed to get the clutch hit they needed to try and stay within striking distance in the National League Central.
NOTES: The Pirates are now 12-43 in games in which they scored four runs or less. ... Philadelphia pitcher Roy Oswalt’s 15 career wins is the most by an active pitcher against the Pirates. ... Chicago’s nine wins over the Pirates the last two years are the fewest of any NL Central club. ... The Cubs are 48-36 all-time at PNC Park.
Follow AP Sports Writer Will Graves on Twitter at twitter.com/WillGravesAP