The Chicago Cubs' bullpen was out of gas after a rough four-game series against the Nationals in Washington in which manager Mike Quade was forced to use his relievers for 17 innings.
It caught up with the Cubs on Friday night as rookie catcher Mike McKenry hit his first major league home run, a three-run shot in the eighth inning off closer Carlos Marmol that rallied the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 7-4 victory.
The Pirates scored four runs in the eighth off Sean Marshall and Marmol, Chicago's two best relievers.
"We've asked a lot of our guys in the bullpen, too much," Quade said.
After Darwin Barney's RBI single in the top of the eighth broke a 3-3 tie, Quade called on Marshall to protect the one-run lead even though the left-hander had pitched two innings and threw 30 pitches on Thursday in a 10-9 victory over Washington.
Marshall (5-3) walked pinch-hitter Matt Diaz to start the inning. After Andrew McCutchen flied to right, Neil Walker hit what appeared to be an inning-ending double play ball to Barney, the second baseman.
However, pinch-runner Pedro Ciriaco slid hard into shortstop Starling Castro to break up the double play and keep the inning alive.
Lyle Overbay singled to left and Marmol came on to face rookie third baseman Josh Harrison with two on and two outs.
However, Harrison hit Marmol's first pitch into center field for the tying single, handing the hard thrower his sixth blown save in 24 opportunities.
McKenry followed by fouling off six straight pitches before hitting a drive deep in the left-field bleachers.
"I was hoping Marsh could get us through the inning, but he just didn't have anything left," Quade said.
What concerned Quade more is that Marmol got beat on sliders as the Cubs lost for the sixth time in eight games.
"His slider was as flat as I've ever seen it, which was a little surprising," Quade said. "We've got to get that straightened out. I felt really about I felt good about bringing him in against a couple guys who had never seen him."
However, the rookies wound up getting big hits off Marmol, much to the delight of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
"It was a grind," Hurdle said. "It was a reach. Our guys reached down and were able to get four runs off two of the best relief pitchers in the National League in Marmol and Marshall. That was pretty impressive."
Marmol said poor location was the main factor in the Pirates hitting him.
"Today, I was throwing the ball right down the middle," he said. "That's what happens when I get hit. You're not going to be sharp every time you go out there. No excuses. I gave up two base hits and that's the ballgame. You've just got to think about tomorrow now because you can't do anything about today."
Chicago's Aramis Ramirez hit his 10th home run in his past 16 games. Marlon Byrd had three hits, Alfonso Soriano doubled twice and drove in two runs and Ramirez and Darwin Barney added two hits apiece.
The Cubs had 11 hits, but stranded 10 base runners.
Daniel McCutchen (3-1) got the final out of the eighth inning for the win and Joel Hanrahan got his 26th save.
Harrison had three hits of the Pirates' 12 hits, Andrew McCutchen homered, Walker hit a two-run single and rookie left fielder Alex Presley and Overbay added two hits each.
The Cubs' Rodrigo Lopez allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings while walking one and striking out three.
Pittsburgh's James McDonald lasted 5 2/3 innings and gave up three runs and five hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
McCutchen homered to center field, his 13th, to lead off the bottom of the sixth and tie the game at 3-3. Chicago had pulled ahead 3-2 in the top of the inning on Soriano's two-run double.
The Cubs opened the scoring in the first inning on Ramirez's home run to right field, his 15th.
Pittsburgh answered with two runs in the third to take the lead as Walker's two-out infield single scored a pair of runs. Presley scored from third and Chase d'Arnaud came around from second when second baseman Barney's off-balance throw pulled first baseman Carlos Pena off the bag.