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Two miscues prove costly in the Chicago Cubs’ 3-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds

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CINCINNATI — Little things tend to turn into big things when a team isn’t playing well.

Left-hander Justin Steele arguably had his best stuff of the season Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds. He struck out seven and walked one batter in seven largely efficient innings. Steele pitched better than the three runs allowed would indicate, but two misplayed sequences in the fourth led to two costly runs that loomed large in the Chicago Cubs’ 3-2 loss.

Reds speedster Elly De La Cruz evaded David Bote’s tag at second base, swiping his 33rd steal on what should have been a successful pickoff. Steele executed the pickoff throw to first baseman Michael Busch on a call from the dugout. But Busch’s low throw to Bote was enough for De La Cruz to get his hand on the base.

“You have to be perfect with them and the throw was not good enough to get the out,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It was a well pitched game and certainly a game when you get a start like that that you hope to win.”

Busch echoed his manager’s perspective on the play.

“It needed to be a better throw for sure,” Busch said. “The fact that (Steele) ended up with three runs, it was kind of annoying in a sense. I wish I could have made that play for him. That’s a type of outing where he did his job and you don’t ask anything else from him. Just a phenomenal job.”

Moments later, catcher Miguel Amaya couldn’t corral Steele’s low slider on strike three with two outs to allow Spencer Steer to reach first and De La Cruz to advance to third. Tyler Stephenson followed with a go-ahead two-run double before Steele struck out Jonathan India to finally end the inning.

Amaya took responsibility for the mistake.

“It was one of those details that made an impact on the game,” Amaya said through an interpreter. “The pitch broke pretty fast. I was trying to catch it and that’s when I lost it.”

The loss dropped the Cubs (31-33) into a second-place tie with the Reds in the National League Central, 6½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

Cubs manager Craig Counsell speaks with right fielder Seiya Suzuki during the fifth inning against the Reds on June 7, 2024, in Cincinnati. (Jeff Dean/Getty)

Steele had the Reds on their heels with his four-seam fastball and slider combination, even mixing in a few changeups. He got 16 swing and misses, including 10 against his slider. He executed well enough in the fourth that it should have resulted in another zero on the scoreboard. Steele didn’t dwell on the plays that should have been made in the inning, though. He told Amaya following the dropped third strike that it wasn’t a big deal, it happens, especially over a long season, and the Cubs need him back out there tomorrow.

“He’s such a good kid, such a good player behind the plate,” Steele said. “This team needs him and he’s going to be so special for us, not just in the near future but in the long haul. That’s the kind of player he is, the kind of personality and makeup that he has.”

Amaya appreciated the encouraging words from Steele.

“It means a lot just to hear that support from him,” Amaya said. “Just keep moving forward, turn the page and just focus on tomorrow.”

Dansby Swanson’s homer in the sixth and Amaya’s RBI double in the ninth produced the Cubs’ only runs. The Cubs have lost 16 of their last 23 games.

“We’re going to find our way,” Swanson said. “Just a little frustrating right now, but at some point, the tide will turn. As a group, we obviously know we’re better, we want better results and are working toward those results. We’re obviously a close knit group and we believe in one another and it’s just a matter of time.”

Right fielder Seiya Suzuki exited the game in the sixth inning with a left side bruise. He had been hit by Stephenson’s throw on a successful stolen base attempt in the first inning. Suzuki remained in the game but again was checked on by Counsell and a team trainer after he swung at a pitch during his at-bat in the top of the fifth. He again stayed on the field, eventually drawing a walk, but was replaced by Mike Tauchman in the bottom of the sixth.

Suzuki said he felt his left oblique tighten up during his last at-bat, and given his two previous oblique strains, he wanted to be precautious and came out of the game. Suzuki had not undergone a thorough evaluation yet after the game so he couldn’t distinguish whether the throw hit him more on bone or muscle.

“If there’s nothing wrong with it, then I want to be out there,” Suzuki said. “But we’ll see how it is tomorrow.”

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