In summing up the first month of the 2016 season, Joe Maddon pointed to the defense as a huge reason why the Cubs are out to the best start in baseball.
But as the calendar flipped to May, sloppy defense doomed the Cubs as they dropped the finale of this rain-shortened weekend series with the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, in 10 innings in front of 40,164 shivering fans Sunday at Wrigley Field.
John Lackey spent most of the afternoon cruising but ran into trouble in the sixth when Addison Russell booted a potential inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. The next batter grounded out to Ben Zobrist, but the Cubs second baseman couldn't get the tag on baserunner Adonis Garcia right away, thus allowing the Braves' third run to score before the Cubs finally chased down Garcia.
"No excuses," Russell said. "I gotta make that play right there."
That was enough to sink the Cubs despite a late rally that pushed the game into extra innings, where Braves outfielder Nick Markakis drove home the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th inning off Hector Rondon.
"We did a lot of things well," Maddon said. "We had one mistake on defense that I thought was a little bit of a tough hop for Addy. They hit some balls well today. We hit some balls well today without any luck.
"Good game. I really appreciate the way our guys came back once again, had a chance to win the game — and then give (the Braves) credit for fighting back the way they did."
It didn't feel like May at Wrigley with temps in the upper 30s with windchill, and this Cubs offense that was built to score in any conditions couldn't do anything against Atlanta starter Julio Teheran.
Pinch-hitter Matt Szczur started the Cubs' comeback attempt with a perfect bunt base hit in the eighth inning, and Dexter Fowler followed with a double. Jason Heyward drove in the Cubs' first run with a groundout, and Kris Bryant sent Fowler home with a two-out RBI single to left.
Zobrist led off the ninth with a walk and wound up motoring all the way to third base when Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino sent his pickoff throw into the right-field bullpen.
Russell atoned for his error by lining an 0-2 pitch into right field to tie the game, but the euphoria was brief as the Braves got to the Cubs' closer in the 10th and the Cubs couldn't mount another rally.
Maddon chose to look at the positives with Russell after the game.
"(That last at-bat) doesn't surprise me. He's been having good at-bats and he's very good when it matters," Maddon said. "I write on (the gameday notes) every day, 'Be present, not perfect.' I don't expect perfection on a nightly basis.
"You just like the fact that we come ready to play and we played 10 innings hard tonight. We just came up a little bit short. But as a group, we really went after it well."