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Never-say-die Cubs can't find big hit

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- One of the themes of the Cubs' World Series championship team of a season ago was never quitting. Their determined lineup made no lead feel safe.

So it was a bit of a surprise -- or maybe just a sign of an offense trying to find its regular-season rhythm -- that two late rallies Friday afternoon went for naught in the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Pirates at Wrigley Field.

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CHICAGO -- One of the themes of the Cubs' World Series championship team of a season ago was never quitting. Their determined lineup made no lead feel safe.

So it was a bit of a surprise -- or maybe just a sign of an offense trying to find its regular-season rhythm -- that two late rallies Friday afternoon went for naught in the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Pirates at Wrigley Field.

View Full Game Coverage

"We just could not get the hit when we needed it, but we played it all the way until the very end," manager Joe Maddon said.

A three-run sixth inning for the Pirates after a less-than-stellar outing by Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (three runs in five innings) and the first hiccup of the season for reliever Justin Grimm (allowing two inherited runners to score) seemed to signal an easy win for Pittsburgh. But a struggling Pirates bullpen continued to do just that, while the Cubs wouldn't quit and loaded the bases in the eighth and ninth innings.

The eighth inning was perhaps their best opportunity after third baseman Kris Bryant drew a leadoff walk and Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch. Consecutive outs, however, stalled the rally - which was extended by Jason Heyward diving head-first into first base to load the bases with two outs. Willson Contreras grounded into a force out at third to end the inning.

Video: PIT@CHC: Rivero escapes trouble with the bases loaded

The ninth once again came back around to Bryant, Rizzo and Co., albeit with two outs. Kyle Schwarber drew a two-out walk, Bryant reached on an error and Rizzo was plunked once more before right fielder Ben Zobrist grounded out to end the game.

Video: PIT@CHC: Watson retires Zobrist to earn the save

"We put ourselves in position to get a chance in the last few innings to tie the game at least," Zobrist said. "And that, right now with a lot of us -- I think the rhythm just isn't quite there at the plate. It's early in the season, it's chilly, it's been tough to get it going this week for everybody, but I like how we battled late in the game."

Although the Cubs don't have many high batting averages up and down their lineup -- Heyward leads at .294 -- Maddon likes the hitting approaches. Schwarber has drawn six walks in his last four games, Bryant has walked in five straight and Rizzo is batting .400 on the homestand.

"I love the fact that we are seeing a lot of pitches, we are seeing good at-bats," Maddon said. "We actually look really good at the plate. Guys that normally hit who are not -- head's up, they're going to start doing it. To be in pretty good shape record-wise in spite of not having the offense clicking on all cylinders, it's kind of a good sign."

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com.

Chicago Cubs