Following Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field, Cubs manager Lou Piniella knew what the story of the game was. After all, it's been a big part of the story all season.
"There's no sense talking about it," Piniella said. "Let's talk about the pitching."
"It" is hitting with runners in scoring position. In those situations, the Cubs were 0-for-9 on Sunday and 3-for-25 in the three-game weekend series in New York.
The Cubs managed just nine runs in the series against a Mets rotation that boasts only one of its Opening Day starters. That was Sunday's starting pitcher, Mike Pelfrey, who looked like the No. 2 starter New York envisioned he would be all season.
Pelfrey, who had been 2-6 since the All-Star break and had given up 12 runs in his last two starts, had his longest outing of the season, going eight innings and allowing a single run on five hits.
Pelfrey retired nine consecutive batters in one stretch and 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.
"He's a big strong kid that throws hard. He pitched inside really well. But you know so many pitchers have pitched well against us that I'm not exactly sure," Piniella said. "I liked his stuff, I liked the way he went about his business, but I've said that about a lot of pitchers this year."
It's hard to blame Piniella for his skepticism; the Cubs have made the pedestrian look premium before. It was just two days ago that they were shut out for seven innings by Bobby Parnell, the Mets' converted reliever who Chicago had lit up a week before. The Cubs stranded 12 runners on base in Friday's 6-2 loss.
On Sunday, the offense's hamartia manifested itself from the very first inning. Sam Fuld led off the game with a single and advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt and a Bobby Scales groundout. But Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez -- the offensive heroes of Saturday's win -- couldn't move Fuld the final 90 feet.
Chicago had a runner in scoring position in five different innings, but finished the day 0-for-9 in that crucial situation. Both of the Cubs' runs came on Geovany Soto doubles down the left-field line that scored Jeff Baker from first base.
"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit," Soto said. "I'm starting to feel better at the plate, but it's still a grind. I've still got a lot to do in the last month."
It was a nice day for the struggling catcher, but not enough to overcome the offensive dormancy and another subpar performance from the bullpen.
With the game still within reach at 2-1 in the seventh, former closer Kevin Gregg allowed a single to Pelfrey, a bunt hit to Angel Pagan and a backbreaking two-out, two-run triple to Daniel Murphy.
Gregg allowed four runs in just two-thirds of an inning in this series, and his ERA since the start of August is 8.59.
It all spoiled another stellar effort from Randy Wells, who gave up two runs, one unearned, on seven hits in six innings. It was the sixth consecutive game in which a Cubs starter did not allow more than one earned run, yet Chicago went 3-3 in those games.
Wells, like Gregg, was victimized primarily by Murphy, who drove in all four of the Mets' runs. Murphy deposited Wells' third consecutive changeup into the right-field stands to give the Mets a 1-0 lead in the fourth, and his seeing-eye single with two outs in the fifth put New York back on top, 2-1.
That second run was unearned because Ramirez booted a grounder from David Wright. It was the sixth unearned run the Cubs have allowed in their past seven games.
"It's just one of those days," Wells said. "You've got to pitch around the error. That's what a good pitcher does. ... When you have chances to get out of the inning, you have to take advantage of it. I didn't today."
Still, Piniella was quick to compliment his rookie starter, who deserves more than his 10 wins.
"He could have two or three more wins -- maybe three or four," Piniella said. "He doesn't give in, he competes. You've got to be really pleased with him. He's probably the best development we've had here all year."
And although the defense would let Wells down in the fifth, Andres Blanco provided a highlight-reel play an inning earlier. Blanco slid to snag Jeff Francoeur's sharp ground ball up the middle and, while still rolling over, fired a perfect strike to first to get Francoeur by a step.
"What a great play. That's as good a play as I've ever seen made at the big league level. How about that?" Piniella said. "I don't know how he got the ball over to first base. I could see him getting to the ball, but throwing it the way he did?"
"I came down and saw the replay, and I didn't believe it," Blanco said of his own gem. "I was surprised. I really made a good throw."