The Miami Marlins have lost 17 games this season, but few were as demoralizing as Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Even after closer Steve Cishek allowed a two-out solo home run to Luis Valbuena in the top of the ninth, Miami felt in control when the first two batters in the bottom of the inning reached against Carlos Marmol with the top of the order coming up.
But the inning turned when Juan Pierre, one of the game’s best bunters, failed to sacrifice the runners, his bunt bouncing close enough to the plate for catcher Wellington Castillo to throw out Donovan Solano at third.
Placido Polanco then flew out on a hard-hit ball to center and Giancarlo Stanton swung at a ball out of the strike zone to end the game.
“That was the game, me not getting the bunt down,” Pierre said. “It’s unacceptable. I have a job to do … I just didn’t do it. (Polanco) hits a sac fly right there and it’s a tie game. … a tough way not to get the job done.
“Put this one on me.”
Manager Mike Redmond said he felt good after Solano walked and pinch-hitter Austin Kearns singled to open the ninth. Kearns’ single was just the Marlins’ second hit since Pierre’s run-scoring single with one out in the second.
“J.P. had to get the bunt down,” Redmond said. “We had it set up perfect. It changed the whole inning.”
Valbuena drilled a high-rising fastball from Cishek (1-3) that cleared the right-field fence and landed in the Marlins’ bullpen. Cishek retired the first two batters easily.
Stanton thought the ball was going to hit the fence. When he saw it go over the fence, he angrily punched the air.
Stanton’s final at-bat didn’t help his mood, waving at a Marmol slider that was out of the zone.
Marlins starter Kevin Slowey labored through six innings, throwing 112 pitches while allowing three runs on five hits. Still, he struck out six, walked none and was one pitch from leaving with the lead and a chance to break his personal 10-game losing streak that dates back to Sept. 18, 2010.
“I don’t know how long it’s been since I threw that many,” Slowey said. “It’s been a while. It’s good that I have the faith of the manager and the pitching coach to let me finish the inning.”
In fact, Slowey’s pitch count was two off his career high. He has thrown 114 three times, the last being Aug. 5, 2010.
The Marlins handed Slowey a 3-1 lead in the second inning but the Cubs scored a run in the fourth and then tied the score in the sixth on a slicing line drive by Nate Schierholtz that hit the right-field foul pole just above the 335-foot sign.
Slowey, the Marlins’ most effective starter this season, allowed more than two runs for the first time in four starts, his ERA rising to 2.43.
The Marlins had a chance to give Slowey the lead in the sixth inning, but with runners on first and second, Pierre hit a bouncer that second baseman Darwin Barney fielded and flipped to second in one motion to force Greg Dobbs. Rob Brantly had opened the inning by getting hit by a pitch.
The Cubs intentionally walked Dobbs, who pinch hit for Slowey, to get to Pierre.
The first inning took 33 minutes and included 59 pitches. Somehow, both teams were able to limit the damage and the inning ended 1-1, the Cubs getting a run-scoring single from Starlin Castro and Brantly drawing a bases-loaded walk.
Pierre was mainly responsible for giving the Marlins the lead in the second, driving in his second run of the season with a single before stealing second and third and scoring when Stanton hit into a fielder’s choice.
Noteworthy: Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has started throwing and fielding and is expected to return May 2, the day he comes off the disabled list. Hechavarria said the injury, which at first was diagnosed as a right elbow bruise, is a strained muscle on the inside of his elbow. … The Marlins claimed left-hander Duane Below from Detroit and optioned him to Triple-A New Orleans. Below was 1-2 with a 2.10 ERA in four starts with Triple-A Toledo this season.