PITTSBURGH — Ryan Vogelsong’s resilient return from the facial fractures that cost him two months in the middle of the season is remarkable.
The veteran pitcher’s stuff at the moment, however, is not. And the 39-year-old knows it.
The Chicago Cubs pushed Vogelsong around for five choppy innings and Pittsburgh’s ninth-inning rally fell short on Tuesday night in a 6-4 loss.
Pittsburgh was eliminated from postseason contention when San Francisco won later Tuesday, ending a run of three-straight playoff appearances.
Vogelsong (3-7) struggled with his command, giving up four hits, walking five and hitting a batter. He threw just 51 of his 102 pitches for strikes and fell to 0-3 with a 9.55 ERA this month, a downturn that’s coincided with his team’s fade out of playoff contention.
“Just an unacceptable start, really,” Vogelsong said. “Just no excuses. Unacceptable.”
Vogelsong managed to get out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first but couldn’t in the second. Two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases before Chris Coghlan sent an offering off the wall in right-center to clear them to give the Cubs the lead. Chicago won for the seventh time in its last eight games to improve to 101-56, the club’s highest victory total since it won 104 games in 1910.
Much of that success has come against the Pirates. A year after the two reached the postseason as wild cards, Chicago is 14-3 against the Pirates this season, outscoring them 109-64 in the process.
Dexter Fowler added an RBI double for Chicago. Lackey (11-8) worked around five hits and three walks to win his last regular season start.
Felix Pena recorded the final two outs for his first career save after Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run single off Justin Grimm to get the Pirates within two. Pena struck out Sean Rodriguez with the bases loaded to end it.
Chicago manager Joe Maddon is experimenting with his lineup over the season’s final week with the Cubs already assured of home-field advantage in the NL playoffs. That means plenty of playing time for Coghlan, who has been mired in a season-long slump but is hitting .423 (11 of 26) since Sept. 16.
Lackey made sure the early lead stood, though not without some shaky moments. He needed a double play to thwart a potentially big inning in the second and his defense bailed him out when Jordy Mercer’s line drive with the bases loaded in the fourth went straight to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki, who flipped to second to double off Rodriguez.
The Pirates went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position — both hits coming in the ninth — and left 11 men on base.
NO K’s FOR NICASIO
Pittsburgh reliever Juan Nicasio gave up two runs in the ninth and failed to record a strikeout for the first time in 34 appearances, ending his club-record streak.
Pirates: LF Starling Marte remained out of the starting lineup with back stiffness and grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the fifth. The All-Star has just three plate appearances — all as a pinch hitter — since Sept. 5. There’s a chance Marte could get back in the lineup before the series with Chicago ends. “Things are moving quickly and I’m feeling a lot more better than things were before,” Marte said after the game. “Right now, I’m just submitting to my trainers and what they have me doing and hopefully I’ll get back and be able to bounce back as soon as possible.”
Cubs: Jake Arrieta (18-7, 2.85 ERA) makes his final start of the regular season. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner is 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 12 career starts against the Pirates.
Pirates: Rookie Jameson Taillon (4-4, 3.49) faces the Cubs for the second time this season. Chicago touched him for four runs in four innings of a 10-5 loss on June 19.