This was going to be a day of good stories for the D-backs. Zac Gallen returned from the injured list and looked sharp through 5 2/3 innings, and the bullpen managed to keep the Cubs off the board while the offense did just enough to take a one-run lead into the ninth.
Closer Joakim Soria came on and retired the first two Chicago hitters, and then in the span of four pitches, everything changed.
Rafael Ortega doubled to right on the first pitch he saw, pinch-hitter Robinson Chirinos lined a ball off the glove of a leaping Nick Ahmed at short, again on the first pitch, and the game was tied.
Two pitches later, Willson Contreras launched a homer over the wall in left to complete the three-run rally and leave the D-backs on the wrong side of a 4-2 loss at Chase Field.
It also left D-backs manager Torey Lovullo once again trying to summarize a difficult loss for his team.
"It's like biting on an onion," Lovullo said. "And it's hard to describe the feeling. It hurts, it's painful and we feel this way because we care and we should let it burn a little bit. I'm still not where I need to be. At some point, I'll let this one go, but they all hurt no matter what. And this one was as close as you can get, but we just didn't close it out."
Soria struggled early in the year, but he had turned things around of late. Over his last 10 games prior to Saturday, the veteran right-hander allowed just one run over 9 1/3 innings.
And after he got the first two hitters of the inning out relatively easily, it seemed like that trend was going to continue.
"I haven't seen the location of the pitches. I haven't seen any of the highlights -- or lowlights -- of what happened," Lovullo said. "But I'm sure there are mistakes out over the plate. He's aggressive, he's going to attack. He's done it that way for a long time. I just think there were some middle-middle mistakes. That'd be my guess -- some mistakes in some hot zones and their hitters took advantage of them."
The D-backs can take some solace in how Gallen pitched.
Gallen, who had been on the injured list with a strained right hamstring since June 3, did not show any rust, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out seven.
Sitting at 77 pitches with two outs in the sixth, Lovullo went to the mound to get Gallen with runners at first and second and left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward coming to the plate. Gallen tried to argue with Lovullo, but pitching coach Matt Herges had already visited the mound in the inning, so even if Lovullo wanted to leave in Gallen, he couldn't.
"He was fantastic," Lovullo said. "You know, one run, he was in control of every inning. He was toeing that pitch-count line, and I'm sure you saw his frustration with coming out of the game. I probably have a different approach than some, but I like that guys push back. I like guys letting me know how they feel. And I don't want guys wanting to come out of baseball games. Taking him out of the game was a little bit of a challenge, but he put us in a position to win that baseball game.”
Gallen had been told that 85 pitches would be his max, and he felt good about his chances of getting Heyward out after retiring him easily his first two times up.
Television cameras picked up Gallen and Lovullo discussing it in the dugout after the inning ended before heading to the clubhouse to continue the dialog.
"The biggest thing I always appreciate from Torey is that he's pretty open," Gallen said. "With somebody like me, you know I don't have that much service time. Sometimes in other places you don't get that respect, necessarily. His main concern was just being cautionary about it the first time back. I felt like I still had more left in the tank and that I could get us out of there and maybe [save] the use of the bullpen a little bit longer. So, in that sense, we just butted heads."