CHICAGO -- The Pirates, for the most part, are still working without a net. Their pitchers have been nasty, but the offense has been minimal, with manager Clint Hurdle scanning the daily production and saying with a light shoulder-shrug, "It's the way we're built right now."
It's a thin line they're walking, and on Sunday they crossed it, twice. On one side of the ball, they crossed the line when Cody Ransom broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh with a three-run homer off Justin Wilson, working in relief of erratic Jeff Locke.
And on the other side, they crossed the line when Andrew McCutchen, trying to steal a base, instead ran into the second out of the ninth.
Bottom line: The Cubs sent the Bucs home with a 4-1 loss.
The last impression left by the game was puzzlement. With Kevin Gregg working to save Chicago starter Edwin Jackson's victory, McCutchen lined a sharp single to center with one out. Up next was Garrett Jones, who had already driven in McCutchen with the Bucs' lone run.
On Gregg's first pitch to Jones, McCutchen took off, trying to carry into scoring position the Pirates' second run, with them down by three. He was called out on catcher Dioner Navarro's throw to shortstop Starlin Castro, who appeared to tag McCutchen on the knee after his foot had already kicked the bag.
"Yeah," McCutchen said, "but it shouldn't even be be close. If you're going there, you have to make sure you get there. I'm trying to break up a double-play possibility, get closer to scoring. I thought I had a good jump, but I looked up and I wasn't at the base yet and [Navarro] is already throwing the ball."
Jones followed with a double over right fielder Julio Borbon's head, which likely would have scored McCutchen from first.
"Oh, yeah. But isn't that the way it usually works out? Running doesn't work, and the next guy gets a double," McCutchen said.
But even if McCutchen is held up at third on Jones' double, and even after Russell Martin strikes out for what otherwise would have been out No. 2, Pedro Alvarez gets to bat as the potential tying run. As it was, the game ended on Martin's whiff without the Bucs' top homer threat and run-producer leaving the on-deck circle.
"You don't want to be out in that situation," Hurdle allowed. "We've given our guys the green light to do some things, be aggressive. That just didn't work out for us. That's on me: If you want him not to run, you need to put a red light on him."
This subtlety, of course, became significant because of the Bucs' arrested offense, which, in turn, highlighted Locke's strange outing.
Wrigley Field has witnessed a century of oddities, so seeing Locke surrender a run before he surrendered his only hit was routine for Chicago's North Side.
Wilson was working in relief of Locke -- who was chased with two outs in the sixth when his 100th pitch was turned into the Cubs' first hit -- when Ryan Sweeney began the seventh with a single. Sweeney was forced at second on pinch-hitter Borbon's failed sacrifice attempt, but Darwin Barney also singled to bring up Ransom, who turned Wilson's 2-1 pitch into his sixth homer.
"Good job of hitting," said Wilson, who took his first loss after winning his first five decisions out of the bullpen. "I didn't get the ball far enough in there; I thought I had, but he got the barrel through it, got it up in that jet stream and the ball got out."
Ransom's drive to the left-field Bleacher Creatures brought the North Side to life. Up to that point, the Pirates had outscored the Cubs 9-3 in the first 24 innings of the weekend series.
While working on his no-hitter, Locke was consistently within one swing of falling behind, even after the Bucs had given him a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Fighting the losing battle with his control, he repeatedly walked the potential tying run on base and had to deal with the next batter to keep the potential from being realized.
It was working. Until walk No. 6 -- to Ransom leading off the sixth -- quickly led to a complication and then the tying run.
Anthony Rizzo followed with a rather routine grounder to the right side -- except, with the Pirates in a typical infield shift, it found everybody out of routine position. Second baseman Neil Walker handled the grounder, but had no one to throw to, and thus raced to the first-base bag himself. He beat Rizzo, but Ransom rounded second and continued to uncovered third -- Walker saw this, but had no one to throw to.
Walk No. 7, to Alfonso Soriano, put men on the corners. Scott Hairston dealt with Locke's ninth three-ball count of the game and, before it could turn into his eighth walk, lifted a sacrifice fly to center to deliver Ransom and a 1-1 tie.
Locke still had the Cubs hitless 99 pitches into the game. No. 100 was lined onto the left-field grass by Navarro. Exit Locke, with the strange no-decision. And the strange line: One hit, and seven walks and six strikeouts, in 5 2/3 innings.
"Once the game started, nothing really worked," Locke conceded. "I was hoping they'd hit it at somebody."
"He's a great kid, he's a great pitcher," Navarro said of Locke. "I faced him quite a bit last year in Triple-A. He knows what he's doing. Fortunately, we got him that one inning and we came through."
A quick one-two strike in the fourth had given Locke the 1-0 lead. McCutchen pulled a 1-0 pitch into left for a double and scored when Jones lashed an 0-1 offering into center for an RBI single.
Precisely whom one would have expected to conspire for the Pirates' run. McCutchen went 2-for-3 and is a .333 hitter in 65 career games against the Cubs. Jones went 2-for-4 and now has an 11-game hitting streak at Wrigley Field, during which he is hitting .368 (14-for-38).
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.