The Marlins did something Thursday they hadn’t been able to do all season — they gave Kevin Slowey a lead.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t protect it and they couldn’t add to it and what they really wanted — the first back-to-back wins of the season — ended up slipping right out of their grasp.
Luis Valbuena’s solo home run to right field with two outs in the ninth off closer Steve Cishek completed the Cubs’ rally from an early two-run deficit, and Chicago emerged with a 4-3 victory in front of 15,394 at Marlins Park.
“Put this one on me,” said left fielder Juan Pierre, who played in his 1,900th career game but couldn’t come through with the clutch sacrifice bunt the Marlins sorely needed after getting their first two runners to reach base in the ninth off Cubs closer Carlos Marmol.
“Pitching did well, defense, everything went well, except me getting the bunt down and giving us an opportunity to win that game.”
The Marlins (5-17) have plenty of blame to spread around. But the way they opened the ninth — a walk to Donovan Solano and a pinch-hit single by Austin Kearns — it looked like all the mistakes might get wiped away. But when Pierre attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, the ball didn’t go very far. Cubs catcher Wellington Castillo picked it up and fired to third for the first out.
Placido Polanco then flew out to center — an out that likely would have served as the game-tying sacrifice fly. Instead, Carlos Marmol ended the game by striking out Giancarlo Stanton, who whiffed at two ugly pitches, including one in the dirt for strike three and Marmol’s second save in four opportunities this season.
“You’re always looking for a strike there,” said Stanton, who said he chased a 1-2 slider. “That’s the ideal thing you’re supposed to do in a major-league game.”
With the best ERA (1.90) for a winless pitcher with at least four starts and the worst run support per nine innings in the game (0.38) coming in, Slowey was handed a 3-1 lead in the second.
But, little by little, the Cubs (7-14) — who came in hitting a major-league worst .140 (20 for 143) with runners in scoring position, including 4 for 39 during their 1-5 road trip — chipped away and ruined Slowey’s bid to win his first major-league game since Sept. 18, 2010, versus the Athletics.
Cubs right fielder Nate Schierholtz played the role of spoiler. He doubled and scored in the fourth on Castillo’s double to left, and then he blasted a 345-foot, solo home run off the right-field foul pole in the sixth on a 1-1 pitch from Slowey to tie the score at 3.
Slowey, who hadn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his first four starts, gave up five hits, three earned runs and struck out six over six innings. He threw 112 pitches — two shy of his career high — and 76 strikes.
After Cubs starter Edwin Jackson walked Rob Brantly with the bases loaded to plate a run with two outs in the first, the Marlins scored twice to take a 3-1 lead in the second. First, Solano singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt before Pierre singled to center, getting just his second RBI of the season.
Pierre then moved into scoring position himself by stealing second and third base without throws by Castillo. The steals by the active stolen base leader in the game were the 595th and 596th of his career. After Polanco drew a four-pitch walk, Stanton drove in his fourth run of the season on a fielder’s choice when he sent a bouncer deep into the hole at short.
But the Marlins offense went to sleep after that. Polanco had the team’s lone hit — a leadoff single in the fifth — before Kearns’ single in the ninth.
Cishek, meanwhile, fell to 1-3 on the season. His ERA is at 5.40.
“I think he’s throwing alright,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “It would be nice to use your closer in save situations instead of to get you to the bottom of the ninth. It seems like we’ve only had him in a couple of games to get a save.”