CHICAGO (AP) — Joshua Palacios hit a three-run homer in a seven-run fourth inning and the Chicago Cubs’ postseason drive remained stalled with their sixth loss in seven games, 13-7 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night.
Connor Joe hit a two-run homer in the sixth as All-Star Justin Steele (16-5) lost his second straight start, allowing six runs and eight hits in three-plus innings.
Chicago (79-73), which has lost nine of 12, remained a half-game ahead of Miami (79-74) for the third NL wild card spot, with Cincinnati (79-75) another half-game back.
Steele was chased in the fourth when the Pirates hit six straight singles. All of the runners scored, with Palacios homering off José Cuas to cap the rally.
“It just seemed like whether they hit it hard or not, they put it in play and turned out to be a hit,” Steele said. “It was just one of them nights.”
Ian Happ’s third career grand slam, a drive off Mitch Keller (13-9) in a five-run fifth, cut the deficit to 8-6. Christopher Morel started the inning with his 24th homer, a 440-drive to left that sailed to Waveland Avenue.
Joe, who had three hits, homered off Mark Leiter Jr. Jared Triolo added a solo shot for Pittsburgh.
Steele has had breakout season and is an NL Cy Young Award contender. The left-hander looked strong through the first three innings, allowing two hits and striking out six.
Then the Pirates offense broke out.
“That was a funky inning,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “It happened fast. It was like his slider flattened out a little bit and they were jumping on pitches.
“Six straight hits, the alarms goes off a little bit. Like what’s going on?”
Steele has allowed 12 runs in his last two outings,
“I don’t feel like it was two back-to-back bad starts,” Ross said. “Bad numbers-wise, but not bad starts,”
Keller, like Steele a first-time All Star, yielded seven runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings as the Pirates beat the the Cubs for just the second time in 12 games this season.
Pittsburgh rebounded from a 14-1 loss on Tuesday.
“Obviously, I’m never trying to give up a grand slam or five runs or whatever it might have been,” Keller said. “But I just know we were still winning, I had to keep us in the game.”
Keller struck out six and with 204 for the season became the third Pirates right-hander to reach 200. He is the Pirates winningest pitcher in a season since Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams both had 14 victories in 2018.
Four relievers allowed three hits in 3 1/3 scoreless innings.,
STRO’ READY TO GO
Cubs All-Star RHP Marcus Stroman said before the game he’ll gladly accept any bullpen role down the stretch.
Stroman was activated Sept. 15 after six weeks on the IL, then made a pair of scoreless relief appearances against Arizona. Those were his first bullpen outings since 2014 as a rookie with Toronto.
Stroman was 10-8 through 25 starts with the when he went on the IL with hip inflammation on Aug. 2. He was diagnosed with a right rib cartilage fracture on Aug. 16.
Cubs: RHP Nick Burdi (appendectomy) pitched an inning and allowed a run in a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday. … RHP Brandon Hughes (right knee inflammation) tossed a scoreless inning at Iowa on Tuesday night.
Pirates RHP Johan Oviedo (8-14, 4.27) faces Cubs RHP Kyle Hendricks (6-7, 3.77) on Thursday in the series finale.