Well, nobody said it was going to be easy.
After barely a hiccup through six innings, the Pirates took a 4-1 lead into the seventh only to see it disappear thanks in large part to two wild pitches by reliever Joakim Soria. But the Buccos battled back in the bottom of the eighth to put away the pesky Chicago Cubs 5-4 in the first half of a day-night doubleheader at PNC Park.
Pedro Florimon pinch-ran for Pedro Alvarez in the bottom of the eighth, stole second, and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Miguel Montero. Starling Marte, who missed another start due to illness, then delivered a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to give the Pirates a late-inning lead that they would not relinquish.
“We didn’t get the job done late in the game, but the offense came through,” Pirates starter Gerrit Cole said. “It ain’t how you draw it up, but a win’s a win, man. We need them.”
With the win, the Pirates pull to within two games of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, who are in Milwaukee to play the Brewers later on Tuesday night. The Pirates, of course, will play a second game against Chicago.
But even though this series against the third-place Cubs is perhaps the most highly anticipated series of the season, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle continued to preach the importance of taking things one game at a time.
“When you start running out of games, there’s a different sense of the season,” Hurdle said. “But when you’re not in here every day, I don’t think you can comprehend the sense of what they bring in here.”
Early on, this one did not look like it was going to turn into the nail-biter that it became. Gerrit Cole gave up an unearned run in the first, but was nearly untouchable for most of the ballgame and the early three-run cushion that the Pirates built off of Cubs starter Jason Hammel appeared to be plenty.
After having his start against Milwaukee last week skipped, Cole only needed an inning to settle in before he started to take over the game in a way that few other pitchers in the league can. He struck out eight and walked none during his start and, through six innings, kept the powerful Cubs lineup in check.
But after Kris Bryant struck out looking to start off the seventh inning, Cole surrendered singles to Montero and Starlin Castro before pinch hitter Tommy La Stella hit an RBI double to left field. This prompted Hurdle to turn to Joakim Soria, who threw two wild pitches to allow both of the runners Cole left on base to score and tie the game at four.
Overall, Cole allowed four runs, three earned, in 6.1 innings pitched.
The Pirates fell behind early, but just as quickly made up for it in the bottom of the first inning. Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel was wild early on. He walked Gregory Polanco on four pitches to start the game and then hit Neil Walker in the leg with a breaking ball immediately afterward.
Andrew McCutchen took advantage of Hammel’s command issues and drove Polanco home with a single to center field. The All-Star center fielder is now hitting .391 with runners in scoring position, which leads all qualified Major League hitters.
After Alvarez walked, Travis Snider came through with the bases loaded for the second straight game. Snider, who got the start in Marte’s stead, singled on a groundball up the middle and scored both Walker and McCutchen to give the Pirates an early 3-1 lead.
With Snider and Florimon’s big contributions, Hurdle came out of this game looking very good. But he said that the players on the field are the ones that deserve the credit.
“When you make decisions, you expect to get them all right,” Hurdle said. “It’s not like you pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Oh, wow. That was really smart.’ […] I’m always happy for the players.”
The Pirates tacked on another run in the fourth inning after Cole led off the inning with a single, made a nice base-running decision to advance on a wild pitch, and scored when Walker hit a rocket that tailed away from right fielder Chris Coghlan and fell in for a double. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon lifted Hammel after Walker’s double. The righty’s disappointing afternoon only lasted 3.2 innings, where he gave up four earned runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out five.
Tony Watson pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Mark Melancon threw a clean ninth to earn his 46th save of the season, which ties him with Mike Williams for the team’s single season save record.