CHICAGO -- Preventing an opponent from clinching a playoff berth didn't rank at the top of the list of objectives for manager Dale Sveum as the Cubs entered the final days of a frustrating 2014 season.
From Jeff Samardzija's growth as a starting pitcher to Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo searching for a strong finish, the internal priorities rank higher for the Cubs.
There's also the matter of trying to stay out of last place in the National League Central.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, they assured themselves Monday night of no better than a tie for last after a 2-1 loss to the Pirates on Starlin Marte's home run off reliever Kevin Gregg with two out in the top of the ninth inning.
The Pirates, meanwhile, clinched their first playoff berth since 1992 when the Cardinals beat the Nationals.
It was Gregg's first appearance since Friday, while Pedro Strop received his second game off after pitching three consecutive games.
The Cubs had the tying run thrown out at home plate to end the game. Catcher Russell Martin blocked the plate to prevent Nate Schierholtz from scoring from first on a single by Ryan Sweeney and subsequent bobble in the outfield.
With the loss, the Cubs (65-92) will finish in last place for the first time since 2006, when they went 66-96.
Marte's homer overshadowed some positive developments for the Cubs.
Donnie Murphy, who has hit 11 home runs in 40 games since being promoted in August, raised his stock by hitting a pinch-hit single to score Brian Bogusevic with the tying run in the eighth.
That took Samardzija off the hook for what could have been a tough loss. His only blemish occurred with one out in the first when he allowed a solo home run to Neil Walker.
Making his 32nd start, Samardzija displayed an effective blend of a powerful fastball and off-speed pitches to strike out seven.
He whiffed Jose Tabata on a 95 mph fastball with runners at first and second to end the sixth and increased his season inning total to a career-high 2072/3 and strikeout total to 210.
Samardzija is scheduled to make his final start Sunday in the season finale in St. Louis.
"It's always important to finish well, even if it's one start or two starts," Sveum said before the game. "You might have figured something out and makes you feel a heck of a lot better going into the winter."
For the offense, the effort was there, but the execution was lacking. Rizzo, who leads the Cubs with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs, attempted to bunt for a hit to start the fourth but fouled off a pitch before grounding back to the mound.
Barney, whose malaise has been overshadowed by the struggles of Castro and Rizzo, had a chance to at least tie the game in the second but lined to left.
Carlos Villanueva, who was dispatched to the bullpen in mid-August after the promotion of Jake Arrieta from Triple-A Iowa, pitched a scoreless seventh and has a 1.02 ERA in his last 13 relief appearances.
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