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04/18/08 6:55 PM ET

Bucs stuck in the clutch vs. Cubs

Team continues to search for more hits with runners on base

CHICAGO -- On a positive note, the Pirates did not commit an error on Friday -- the first time they could say that since Opening Day.

Now if only their offense could turn the corner as well.

For the third straight game, the Pirates mustered very little offensively. And as a result, the team spoiled a quality start from Ian Snell against the Cubs with a 3-2 loss in front of 39,118 at Wrigley Field.

"We keep falling short of getting the big hit right now," Pirates manager John Russell said afterward. "We have guys on base, we just can't move them around. We have to start scoring a couple more runs."

The loss was the third straight for the club during a four-day span in which the team has scored a combined five runs in 27 innings. With just 17 hits during those three games -- which calculates out to a .175 team average -- the offense has almost collectively hit a rut.

And while the team's two losses in Los Angeles were against a Dodgers team that scored 19 times in those final two games, on Friday, all the Pirates needed to match the Cubs was three runs.

They would get just two.

"A lot of guys have track records," outfielder Nate McLouth said. "There [are] times like that in baseball when you just don't hit the ball for whatever reason. They'll pick it back up."

That's easy for McLouth to say, as he has been one of the few to avoid the slump.

It was McLouth who cut a 3-1 Chicago lead in half with a solo homer in the eighth. The outfielder, who had gone hitless in his three plate appearances earlier in the game, extended his hitting streak to 16 games with the home run, his third of the season.

"That didn't cross my mind," McLouth said of the streak, though he did admit that he thought he had simply connected for a fly-ball out. It would have ended the hit streak at 15. A little Chicago wind and a short power alley to left-center helped him out.

"I hit it well, but I thought [there was] no way was it going out," said McLouth. "It was just a well-hit fly ball."

In the last three games, McLouth has accounted for four of the team's 17 hits. He's scored three of the Pirates' five total runs. And the outfielder, who is a starter for the first time in his career, is beginning to be noticed.

"This young man the Pirates have in the leadoff spot, he's an impressive-looking young hitter," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of McLouth. "This kid here, he's short and quick to the ball. I saw him in the on-deck circle to end the game, and I wanted to keep him right there. It's a 1-2-3 inning by [Kerry Wood], and let's keep him right there."

The Pirates scored their only other run back in the second, even though Cubs starter Rich Hill battled through control issues throughout his five innings of work.

The Bucs took a 1-0 after Jason Bay singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single to right by Xavier Nady. Nady would advance to third on a double by Jose Bautista, but both would be stranded there to end the inning.

The Pirates would have just three other baserunners in total until McLouth's homer. And then, with two on and that lead already down to one, Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche, who Russell dropped to the sixth spot in the order for the first time this season, ended the last threat the Pirates would make when he struck out on an inside slider in the eighth.

"We've faced some decent arms and we got into the back end of the Cubs bullpen today, which is obviously pretty good," Russell said. "But you'd like to do something early to take a little bit of that pressure off.

"Guys are battling," he continued. "They're just falling up short on scoring runs."

For Snell, the lack of offensive support magnified the three-run fourth that he spotted the Cubs. Snell would be scored upon in just one of the six innings he finished, but it ultimately cost him the chance to pick up his third win of the season.

The inning got off to an ominous start when Snell gave up a leadoff triple to Chicago outfielder Kosuke Fukudome on a ball that just eluded the outstretched glove of center fielder McLouth.

"My strides weren't set up to dive, so I kind of lunged at the last second and it hit off my glove," said McLouth, who was also nearly doused with beer when a fan's beer poured onto the warning track as he recovered to pick up the ball. "It was hit better than I thought it was, too."

A single and double followed for Chicago before Snell induced a ground ball off the bat of center fielder Reed Johnson.

Pirates shortstop Luis Rivas fielded the ball and glanced toward home before realizing that an out there would be hard to get. When he double clutched before throwing on to first, he was too late to get Johnson.

The Pirates would be one step behind again two batters later, and again it would cost them a run. A potential inning-ending double-play grounder ended up as just an out at second when Chicago's Eric Patterson narrowly beat the throw to first. And with it, the Cubs scored their third run.

"I just wanted to get out of the jam with limited damage," said Snell, who struck out five in the start. "But I felt great. The Cubs are a great team."

Still, his effort to limit a Chicago offense that scored 23 runs in three games against the Pirates last week was notable. And, as Russell said afterward, it shouldn't have gone for naught.

"I thought he threw the ball pretty well today," Russell said. "We just didn't give him much run support. He kept us in the game."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.