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3-run shot off Cubs’ Carlos Marmol gives Pirates 7-4 win

Carlos Marmol surrendered three-run homer Michael McKenry (background) eighth. | Keith Srakocic~AP

Carlos Marmol surrendered a three-run homer to Michael McKenry (background) in the eighth. | Keith Srakocic~AP

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Updated: July 9, 2011 6:22AM

PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the Cubs to get reminded of why the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a playoff race the Cubs haven’t sniffed in two years.

As Michael McKenry’s first career home run — a three-run shot off Cub closer Carlos Marmol in the eighth inning — lifted the long-dormant Pirates into second place in the National League Central with a 7-4 victory Friday night, the Cubs were setting their own kind of benchmark.

The loss assured the Cubs will reach the All-Star break without a three-game winning streak for the third time in franchise history — the first team overall to achieve that dubious distinction since the 2000 Houston Astros, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Only 16 teams in history have done that, and only the Cubs (also in 1960 and ’66) and Philadelphia Phillies have done it more than twice.

Lack of starting pitching depth has been the main culprit for the Cubs. But a division that has overtaken the Cubs nearly en masse since their back-to-back division titles in ’08 and ’09 has almost as much to do with it.

The Cubs have the worst division record among NL Central teams and are just 7-15 against the rising Pirates since the start of last season.

“That’s the first time in five years I’ve seen a crowd like that here,’’ Alfonso Soriano said of Pittsburgh’s ninth sellout of the season. “You have to give them credit. They’re having a good season

“We played good, but not good enough like them.’’

Not nearly good enough to patch together even three wins in a row.

“I don’t look at it like a mental barrier at all,’’ manager Mike Quade said. “Playing well is what we’re trying to do here. And as we’ve said half-kiddingly we can win two and lose one for the rest of the year and that would be a nice finish.’’

And, after last night’s loss, still leave them with a losing record.

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