A seven-game losing streak has all but eliminated the Chicago Cubs and the near finality of that could be felt in their somber clubhouse following the latest defeat.
"You don't ever envision failing," right fielder Jason Heyward said quietly. "Whether you're a parent, someone going to work, playing a team sport, you just don't never envision, so it's tough to accept when it happens."
The freefalling Cubs committed five errors, including two in a seven-run seventh inning, in a 9-2 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
Chicago dropped to 82-75 and would be eliminated with one more loss or Milwaukee win. The Cubs have not missed the playoffs since 2014.
Aided by a fielding error by second baseman Ben Zobrist and errant throw by reliever Danny Hultzen, the Pirates sent 13 batters to the plate in the seventh as they chased starter Kyle Hendricks and erased a 1-0 deficit. Pittsburgh stopped a nine-game losing streak in which it had been outscored 87-26.
Hendricks didn't allow any hits until the sixth
The first five batters had hits in the big inning and the sixth reached on Zobrist's error. Colin Moran's RBI single tied the score, Kevin Kramer hit a two-run double for a 3-1 lead and two runs scored when Zobrist couldn't handle Erik Gonzalez's hard grounder for an error.
Hultzen threw wide of second base in attempting to get a forceout, and Adam Frazier capped the outburst with a run-scoring double.
"They made some good adjustment there and they were able to hit some good pitches," Hendricks said. "I felt good all night, felt like we had a good game plan. They spit on some really good pitches and put some good swings on some really good pitches. It all happened kind of fast."
Hendricks (11-10) allowed six runs — five earned — and six hits in six-plus innings.
Kyle Schwarber hit two doubles for Chicago and rookie shortstop Nico Hoerner drove in both runs with a double in the fourth inning and a single in the eighth. Hoerner also made the first two errors of his young career.
Gonzalez hit a two-run shot in the eighth, his first home run in 123 plate appearances this season.
Francisco Liriano (5-3) pitched a perfect seventh. Pittsburgh rookie Mitch Keller gave up one run and seven hits in five innings.
It was the final start of the season for Keller, who entered the year considered the organization's top prospect. He finished 1-5 with a 7.13 ERA in 11 starts.
"It's huge to go out on top, on a good note," Keller said. "Strand runners and not letting them score. Getting big outs. It's all huge to go into the offseason, coming into next season, just having confidence knowing that I can do it."
Chicago stranded 11 runners and went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
"We put runners on base but we couldn't drive them in and that's been a problem for us all season," Chicago manager Joe Maddon said.
Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta served a one-game from suspension for what MLB called "inappropriate conduct" during a replay review in Saturday's game against St. Louis.
Loretta put on the headset that connects the umpiring crew chief to the review center in New York. Only umpires are permitted to use the headsets.
"I thought it was funny, but Major League Baseball didn't," Maddon said. "Hey, nobody died."
With San Francisco's Bruce Bochy and Kansas City's Ned Yost set to retire at the end of the season, Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle will become the longest-tenured manager in the major leagues with his current club. Hurdle began in 2011 and is finishing his ninth year. However, it is not certain Hurdle will return in 2020 despite two years remaining on his contract. The Pirates are assured of finishing last in the NL Central for the first time since 2010.
Cubs: 3B Kris Bryant (sprained right ankle) did not play after being injured Sunday against St. Louis. He underwent an MRI on Monday that showed no structural damage. Bryant was injured when he slipped on first base while unsuccessfully trying to beat out a double play. Two years ago, OF Bryce Harper, then playing for Washington, sustained a knee injury on the same type of play. "Maybe make the bases softer or something," Bryant said. "They should be able to come up with some type of solution." ... LHP Cole Hamels (left shoulder fatigue) threw a bullpen and could be possibly start Thursday night against the Pirates in the finale of three-game series. He was scratched from his scheduled start against the Cardinals last Friday. ... SS Javier Baez (broken left thumb) continues to have problems catching groundballs and remains limited to pinch hitting and pinch running.
Pirates: C Elias Diaz (right knee soreness) missed his second straight game.
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (13-10, 4.51 ERA) will start Tuesday night. He is 3-1 with a 4.51 ERA in his last five outings.
Pirates: RHP Dario Agrazal (4-5, 5.08) is 0-2 with a 7.43 ERA in his previous three starts.