PITTSBURGH — If ever there were a Cliffs Notes version of the Cubs’ season, Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Pirates was it.
Dominant start. Bullpen collapse. Throw remote at flatscreen TV.
Matt Garza returned to the mound for the first time in 10 months, taking a no-hitter into the fifth and leaving after five shutout innings with a three-run lead.
But Garza barely had wiped the sweat off his brow before the bullpen coughed up the lead, giving up five runs in the sixth inning. Travis Snider’s pinch-hit grand slam off Shawn Camp was the big blow, turning a two-run lead into a 5-3 deficit.
“I was a little disappointed I didn’t take it deeper,” Garza said. “I had 85-90 pitches to work with. I don’t like coming out in the fifth. Felt great getting back out there, but it sucks the way it ended.”
The bullpen has an astonishing 50 percent saves percentage (10 saves in 20 chances).
“Seven weeks into the season, to have 10 blown saves and losing games you have in the bag sometimes …” manager Dale Sveum said. “We still struggled scoring runs. Two of our runs were driven in by our pitcher again.”
Garza didn’t last long enough to register a quality start, but nevertheless shined in his long-awaited comeback. He allowed only a one-out single in the fifth, striking out five and walking three while throwing 82 pitches.
To make the storybook start even better, Garza hit a two-run double in the Cubs’ three-run second inning, after hitting .067 (2-for-30) in 2012 and coming into the night with one career RBI in 105 at-bats.
Garza reached 95 mph and mixed in his slider to keep the Pirates’ hitters off-balanced.
“That’s not a big deal to me, as long as I get outs,” he said. “Shoot … I watched Jamie Moyer forever get outs at 81 (mph).”
Everything looked rosy until Sveum called on Hector Rondon to start the sixth, leaving Carlos Villanueva in the bullpen — where he was sent upon Garza’s return. Sveum said Villanueva didn’t “match up too well” against Andrew McCutchen, Garret Jones and the other hitters in the sixth.
Rondon loaded the bases before James Russell came in and walked Pedro Alvarez to force in a run. Then Camp gave up a two-out grand slam on a changeup to Snider. Sveum questioned Camp’s pitch selection.
“Back-to-back (games) we hung changeups we basically shouldn’t even have been throwing to that individual,” Sveum said. “But the human factor comes in.”
Camp conceded the game was “on me,” but added pitch selection wasn’t a factor.
“We’re not going to talk about pitches, pitch selection,” Camp said. “That’s irrelevant.”
One of the workhorses Sveum could count on last year, Camp has struggled with a 7.56 ERA and three blown saves.
“I really don’t know what to say about it,” Camp said. “I get the guy out in front of (Snider). If he pops the ball up, nobody is talking about it. … We controlled the atmosphere up to that point.”