CHICAGO -- On Labor Day, the Reds continued to make their job a little more difficult as they strive to reach the postseason.
With Monday's 4-3 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Cincinnati has lost seven of its last nine games and nine of its last 13. For the first time since Aug. 19, the Reds (73-66) fell to a full game back of the Padres for the second National League Wild Card spot. San Diego was idle on Monday.
"I know we’ve played really well to get to this point of the season. The last week, there’s another level of baseball that we’re capable of playing," Reds manager David Bell said. "That’s why we’re in this position. Our players, everyone in here, is doing everything we can to get back to that point as quick as possible."
As much as he wanted to, reliever Michael Lorenzen could not get that last strike to a pair of batters in the pivotal bottom of the eighth inning. In a 3-3 game and facing Cubs pinch-hitter Alfonso Rivas to open, Lorenzen had him in a 1-2 count. Rivas fought with four foul balls and took two pitches to run the count full before reaching on a leadoff single.
"That leadoff hitter can be so important, especially late in the game like that," Bell said.
A wild pitch moved Rivas to second base. On an 0-2 pitch, Frank Schwindel hit an RBI single to right field for the go-ahead run.
For those batters, Lorenzen lamented not having his changeup as a put-away pitch. It was only the second time in 16 appearances he allowed runs. Both times, he took the loss.
"I usually don’t throw my cutter with two strikes, but since my changeup went from being my best pitch to the worst pitch on the face of the planet, I wasn’t able to use it there. You have to find something else to use. I generally don’t throw my cutter with two strikes because it’s a contact pitch, but it’s something I’ve been getting swing-and-miss on. Obviously, the execution wasn’t there."
Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray overcame a rough first inning to have a strong five-inning performance for a no-decision. Gray's day began with fill-in first baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera's fielding error, followed by a single and Ian Happ's three-run homer to make it 3-0 after three batters.
Recovering well, Gray retired the next 11 batters in a row and his final 15 of 16 -- with six of his eight strikeouts.
“I felt like he struck every hitter out," Bell said. "I know that’s not true. He dominated after the first inning."
Gray threw only 66 pitches but was lifted during Cincinnati's three-run rally in the top of the sixth inning against Cubs starter Justin Steele. Eugenio Suárez was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs, and Cabrera was hit on the leg by an 0-2 Steele pitch to force home the Reds' first run.
Reliever Codi Heuer took over but his wild pitch to Kyle Farmer scored Nick Castellanos. In something that proved critical moments later, Suárez did not attempt to advance and it left runners on first and second base.
"If Geno would have gone to third, maybe Cabby goes to second," Bell said. "It looked like Geno just kind of froze up, didn’t get a good read on the ball. For whatever reason, he did not get a good read. And that came up big. That was our opportunity to get back in the game."
Pinch-hitting with two outs, Max Schrock worked from a 1-2 to a 3-2 count before coming through with a game-tying RBI double to left field that scored Suárez and put Cabrera on third base. With the game still tied, Bell used Mike Moustakas to bat for Gray. Moustakas popped out to first base.
"Once it was second and third, there was still opportunity there to do some damage," Bell said. "Tough taking him out there the way he was pitching. But I really did feel like that was our opportunity.”
The Reds came in having lost four straight series -- including to non-contenders like the Marlins and Tigers. They also lost a recent series to the Cubs in two of three games Aug. 16-18 in Cincinnati.
"There is a sense of urgency, of course, but we know we’re really good," Lorenzen said. "We’re just showing up and trying to win every day. That’s all we’re doing."
Taking advantage of an easier schedule has proved elusive.
"We believe we can beat any team and every team. It’s why we’re in the position we are," Bell said. "We’ve beaten the best teams. We talk about a weaker schedule. I think that’s pretty disrespectful to the other teams we’re playing. It’s also disrespectful to us because of where we’re going to end up, we will have had to beat every team and overcome a lot of challenges and beat the best teams along the way."