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Samardzija snakebit again as Pirates top Cubs

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija delivers during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija delivers during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH – Jeff Samardzija remains confident the Chicago Cubs will score runs for him again, even if his manager isn't so sure.

The Chicago ace allowed just one run and three hits in seven dominant innings on Wednesday night, still it wasn't enough to keep the Cubs from falling 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"You take it with a grain of salt," Samardzija said. "That's just the way the game goes sometimes. You give up five runs and get a win sometimes."

Samardzija (2-6) struck out eight and walked just one while trimming his ERA to 3.25. The Cubs have scored just 10 runs in his six losses, including a pair of 1-0 defeats. Chicago is 6-12 in one-run games this season.

"Everybody is playing hard to try to win these games," Samardzija said. "A play here, a play there; a hit here, a hit there and everything changes. It's just a matter of some things starting to go our way and we'll be fine."

Manager Dale Sveum is a bit more impatient. The Cubs went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and are hitting just .160 (4 for 25) with runners on second and third during their three-game losing streak.

"It's the same old song and dance," Sveum said. "We get people on but can't get them in."

Particularly against left-handers such as Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano.

The Cubs are batting just .239 versus lefties this season and produced just two hits during Liriano's seven innings.

Chicago's best chance came in the third when it loaded the bases with no outs. The threat ended with a fielder's choice, a strikeout and a fly ball to right.

Liriano (3-0) didn't give the Cubs another chance, striking out nine and walking one in seven innings before giving way to the bullpen.

Andrew McCutchen doubled twice for the Pirates and scored the game's only run on an RBI single by Garrett Jones in the first. Pittsburgh has won 10 of 12 to move 10 games over .500 (28-18).

The Pirates agreed to terms with Liriano, a former All-Star, in December. A freak accident on Christmas Day in which he broke his right (non-throwing) arm forced him to sign a more incentive-laden deal.

It's certainly looking like a bargain now. Liriano has spent most of the past five seasons attempting to regain the form he showed as a 22-year-old phenom with the Minnesota Twins in 2006, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and made the All-Star team on his way to finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

His path to stardom was sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in 2007, though he appears to have found a home in Pittsburgh.

Mixing his offspeed stuff with a rejuvenated fastball refined by a tweak to his delivery, Liriano has joined A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez in giving the Pirates a respectable top of the rotation.

He was solid in his first two starts in wins over the Mets and Milwaukee. He was spectacular at times against the Cubs. He retired 14 of 15 batters beginning with his escape act in the third.

No Cub made it to third base over Liriano's final four innings and Pittsburgh's bullpen made it hold up even with closer Jason Grilli given the night off after laboring through a 34-pitch save on Tuesday.

The Pirates improved to 26-0 when leading after eight innings while Samardzija's tough luck continued.

Samardzija has been lights out against the Pirates during his career. He came in 4-0 against them, including a dazzling eight innings of work in a 3-1 Chicago win on opening day.

Samardzija might have been even better this time around. His only miscue came in the first when McCutchen doubled with two outs and Jones followed with a single to right.

"I did what I wanted to do," Samardzija said. "Jones jumped a first-pitch fastball and drove in a run. I wanted to throw him a first-pitch strike because that early in the game you want go get quick outs. I had good stuff all day."

Liriano's was just a tick better. Tony Watson worked the eighth and Melancon — typically the setup man — came in for the ninth looking for his first save since Aug. 26, 2012, while playing for the Boston Red Sox.

The Cubs made him work for it. Soriano reached on strikeout-wild pitch and Wellington Castillo singled with one out. Nate Schierholtz and Darwin Barney both lofted weak fly balls to shallow right field that Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker corralled with ease.

NOTES: Chicago's Darwin Barney, who went 4 for 4 in the series opener on Tuesday to raise his average from .192 to .223, went 0 for 3 ... Pittsburgh's left-handed starters are 8-1 at PNC Park this season ... The series wraps up on Thursday. Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.78 ERA) will make his first start against the Cubs. Edwin Jackson (1-6 5.76) starts for Chicago. Jackson is 4-1 with a 3.09 ERA against the Pirates in his career.

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