After competing in a playoff-caliber atmosphere at Busch Stadium over the weekend, the Cubs played before a relatively subdued crowd of 11,337 on Monday night at PNC Park.
And as the excitement level fell off, so too did the Cubs' offense in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh."It was a little flat," Derrek Lee admitted. "You kind of understand it, coming off the events we came off of, an unexpected day off [Sunday] and the tragedy (of Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock's death). We just didn't have the same energy we had a few games before."
The Cubs ended April with a 10-14 record, going 0-6 in one-run games.
"Sometimes we hit, and that's why you see our record in one-run ballgames," manager Lou Piniella said. "[We] don't hit. So when we start winning with a little more consistency, you'll see us start winning more baseball games."
The Cubs were seeking their first four-game win streak since last August, a feat they accomplished only twice in 2006. But they stranded 10 baserunners against Zach Duke and three relievers, turning in a lackluster performance after scoring 22 runs in their last three victories.
Alfonso Soriano finished the month with a 10-game hitting streak, but also hit just .270 with no home runs, one RBI, two stolen bases, nine runs and 17 strikeouts.
"I'm not counting how many games my hitting streak is," Soriano said. "I'd like to score more runs and drive in more runs too. I have some hits, but it means nothing because I don't have any RBIs or runs scored."
Soriano called it the worst month of his nine-year career.
"I got injured (hamstring), no homers, struggling at the plate ... ," he said. "It's good this month is over. I can start again [Tuesday]. The team didn't play very well in April, so I hope May is better for me and the team."
Lee's first-inning double and an RBI single by Aramis Ramirez gave the Cubs first blood. Lee, who hit 50 doubles in '05, has 14 already and is on an early pace to shatter the Cubs' doubles record of 57, set by Billy Herman in 1935 and tied by Herman in '36.
Hill added to the mix in the second when he poked an excuse-me double down the left-field line, scoring Felix Pie when Freddy Sanchez mishandled the relay throw at second.
Hill was on his game most of the night, but the Pirates scored a two-out run in the fourth, and tied it at 2-2 in the seventh on a leadoff walk and Ronnie Paulino's RBI double.
A year ago at this time, Hill was called up from Triple-A Iowa, giving the Cubs three rookies in the rotation, including Angel Guzman and Sean Marshall. He lasted less than a month before being sent back, then got his act together and turned into one of the best young left-handers in the league.
With Guzman tentatively scheduled to join the rotation on Sunday, it's Pie's turn to prove himself at the major-league level, or else return to Iowa for more seasoning. The Cubs have to make a roster move Sunday to bring Guzman up from Iowa.
Piniella said he has been pleased with Pie, lauding his defense in center and his strong arm. But he also said Pie must "master the strike zone" if he wants to stick. He's hitting .233 (10-for-43) with eight strikeouts and one walk, after starting out in a 2-for-19 skid.
"He swings at a lot of bad pitches," Piniella said. "It's hard to hit up here when you chase pitches out of the zone, and that's really what he has to learn more than anything else.
"We've talked to him about that. Our hitting coach (Gerald Perry) reminds him of it from time to time.
"If he can zone himself in to swing at strikes, he's got a much better chance."