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Bucs rally in ninth, overcome fielding woes to take opening series over Cubs

Pedro Alvarez drive in Neil Walker and Garrett Jones with an infield single off closer Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning and the Pirates rallied for a 5-4 victory Sunday over the Cubs to take two of three in the opening series of the season.

Pirates 5, Cubs 4
Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
Down 4-3 entering the top of the ninth inning and faced with the task of fending off Carlos Marmol’s darting slider, the Pirates’ chances of taking Sunday afternoon’s series-deciding game against the Cubs looked grim. A 60-foot chopper by Pedro Alvarez and an aggressive turn around third by Neil Walker later, and the Bucs snatched a 5-4 lead that held up in the bottom half of the inning despite a botched double play by Ronny Cedeno. Alvarez and Jose Tabata each had three hits for the Pirates, who blooped their way to 16 singles to earn a rare road series victory.
Marmol quickly backed himself into a corner in the ninth, walking Garret Jones and allowing a line-drive single to Neil Walker to put runners on first and second base with no outs. Lyle Overbay sacrificed the runners over to second and third, bringing Alvarez to the plate.
With a 1-1 count, Marmol unleashed a slider. Alvarez made weak contact, hitting a dribbler slightly to the left of the mound that a sprawling Marmol couldn’t glove. Shortstop Starlin Castro charged in, barehanded the ball and tried to gun down Alvarez. But Castro’s fling from a sidearm angle went up the first base line, forcing Carlos Pena to dive to his right to keep the ball from skipping into foul territory.
Jones scored easily, and Walker never stopped running.
Pena slid, got to his feet and looked home. Realizing Walker was barreling toward the plate, he fired to Geovany Soto, but Walker slid feet first into the dish before the Cubs catcher could apply the tag.
“My goal was just to score,” Walker said. “I knew [Castro] had a tough play and if he comes up and picks that ball clean and makes a good throw to first, he still has to make a really good throw to home to get me.”
Walker wasn’t sure if Pirates third base coach Nick Leyva gave him the red light or the wind mill. “But my goal was to be at home,” Walker said, “and fortunately I was and it ended up being a big play.”
The Bucs nearly handed the game back in the bottom half of the frame. Joel Hanrahan punched out Reed Johnson, but Starlin Castro lined a 98 MPH fastball into left field. Hanrahan then seemingly clinched a series win for the Bucs, getting Darwin Barney to chop a grounder to shortstop Ronny Cedeno.
Cedeno scooped the would-be double play ball and tossed toward Walker at second, but Cedeno’s throw tailed right and sailed into right field, putting Barney on base at first and allowing Castro to motor around to third.
It didn’t take long for Cedeno to get another chance to end the game. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Joel Hanrahan got a fastball in on the hands of Marlon Byrd, who hit a grounder right at Cedeno. The Bucs’ shortstop fielded it cleanly and threw underhanded to Walker, who sidestepped a hard slide from Barney and tossed to Overbay to complete the double play, ending the white-knuckle contest.
The Bucs’ rally denied Matt Garza from getting a win in his first start as a Cub. The right-hander, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays during the off-season, gave up 12 hits but also struck out a career-high 12 batters and walked none, allowing three runs in seven innings pitched. Garza peppered the strike zone all afternoon, throwing 80 of his 106 pitches for strikes. The Bucs couldn’t touch Garza’s upper 80s slider, which he used to record eight of his punch outs.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a 2-0 lead early, as Cedeno singled to score Alvarez in the second and Alvarez stayed back on a Garza curveball in the third inning, bringing Tabata home.
Chicago knotted the score in the fourth inning, however. Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf allowed three straight singles on fastballs to Barney, Byrd and Aramis Ramirez to begin the inning, bringing Pena to the dish with the bases loaded.
Ohlendorf got behind the Cubs’ free agent prize 3-1, then got him to swing over a low fastball to make it a full count. Ohlendorf’s next fastball caught the fat part of the plate. Pena unloaded and drove the ball toward the cheap seats in right field, doing a skip toward first base.
The ball stayed in play, and right fielder Garret Jones got an unwanted beer bath from a fan as he tried in vain to make a leaping catch at the ivy. The ball ricocheted off the wall and rolled toward the infield, allowing Barney and Byrd to score while putting Pena and Ramirez on second and third base, respectively. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle came out of the dugout and argued for an interference call to no avail.
Ohlendorf managed to avoid further damage in the frame, inducing weak fly balls from Soto and Alfonso Soriano, intentionally walking Tyler Colvin and then breaking Garza’s bat on an inning-ending grounder.
The Bucs and Cubs swapped runs in the fifth, with Overbay driving in Tabata and Barney scoring Castro, who hit his first of two consecutive triples in the game. But Soriano put his heavy lumber to good use in the bottom of the sixth, smacking a solo home run to center field on a high fastball from Ohlendorf.
Ohlendorf, coming off a nightmarish spring training during which he posted an ERA of nearly ten, surrendered eight hits on the day while striking out three and walking four Cubs batters in six innings. Mike Crotta, making his big league debut, and Jeff Karstens each tossed a scoreless inning of relief to keep the Pirates close.
Before rallying in the ninth, the Pirates nearly pulled ahead in the eighth against Kerry Wood. Matt Diaz struck out to begin the inning, but Jason Jaramillo and Cedeno hit back-to-back singles and pinch-hitter John Bowker reached on a Carlos Pena error. Wood recovered, though, getting Tabata to fly a cutter to right field. Jaramillo tagged up from third, but Tyler Colvin uncorked a one-hopper to the plate and Soto tagged out his fellow backstop to end the threat.
McCutchen Scratched
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was a late scratch from the Pirates lineup due to a sore neck. McCutchen ranged back and dove near the right-center field warning track in the third inning of Saturday’s loss to the Cubs, trying unsuccessfully to run down a Carlos Zambrano liner and getting whiplash in the process. Jose Tabata shifted  to the middle pasture on Sunday, and Matt Diaz played left field.
Showing Some Range
Pedro Alvarez’s defense has drawn the ire of manager Clint Hurdle early this season, but the third baseman displayed athleticism and arm strength in the second inning of Sunday’s game. With no one out and Aramis Ramirez on first base, Chicago’s Carlos Pena came to the plate. The Pirates put the shift on the lefty pull hitter, with Alvarez moving to the lip of the infield grass at shortstop. Pena countered by bunting down the third base line, but Alvarez rumbled in and to his right, barehanded the ball and, with his momentum taking him toward the foul line, fired to Lyle Overbay at first base to retire Pena.
Welcome to the Bigs
Right-hander Mike Crotta made his MLB debut for the Bucs on Sunday, retiring the heart of the Cubs’ order –Marlon Byrd, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena — in order in the seventh inning. The 6-4, 235 pounder showcased a sinker that topped out at 95 MPH. Crotta, a starter in the minors, used that sinker and a fading changeup to get ground balls almost 60 percent of the time between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis last season.

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