CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo ripped a line-drive home run toward Wrigley Field's right-field scoreboard Saturday night, and Kris Bryant launched a ball onto Waveland Avenue. But it was David Ross, the beloved 39-year-old backstop they call "Grandpa," who played the role of hero in the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Pirates.
Ross came through with a bunt and a blast, pulling the Cubs within a run on a fourth-inning squeeze bunt and putting them ahead for good with a solo homer to left-center field in the sixth inning.
"It was nice for me to get that going," Ross said. "Usually it's somebody else on this team, so it's nice for me to get a big hit every once in a while."
Chicago's home run barrage was enough to back Jon Lester's fifth straight quality start and victory. Lester, reigning National League Player of the Week, allowed three runs while striking out seven over six innings. The Cubs rotation has held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in 21 straight games.
"We got his pitch count up, worked our walks," Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer said of Lester. "He made pitches when it mattered and when it counted to get out of the jams he was in. That's what good pitchers do."
The Pirates have lost 16 of their last 21 games, falling to two games below .500 for the first time since May 24, 2015. The problem was a familiar one for Pittsburgh: pitching, particularly walks and homers. Left-hander Jonathon Niese served up a trio of long balls, giving him 17 on the year, and walked four batters over 5 1/3 innings.
"We had the lead, and I made those mistakes and gave it up," Niese said. "It's a bad feeling, but you've just got to move on."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Lester on lock: In vintage fashion, Lester worked out of a big jam more than once. After giving up Mercer's homer in the first, he issued three walks with one out in the inning but escaped without further damage. Ross threw out Andrew McCutchen stealing third, and Lester got Matt Joyce to ground out to end the inning. The Pirates also loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth but got only one run. Lester struck out Erik Kratz and Niese before he hit Mercer with a pitch to bring home the run. Lester then struck out Josh Harrison to get out of the inning. The Cubs also got out of two big jams with Jake Arrieta on the mound Friday.
"We've been able to do that successfully," manager Joe Maddon said. "You don't want to do that too often, but we've been able to navigate it."
Joltin' Jordy: Lester had not given up an earned run in more than two weeks when Mercer stepped into the batter's box to lead off Saturday's game. But Mercer quickly put an end to Lester's scoreless streak, launching his third pitch of the game into the left-field seats. The 398-foot shot was Mercer's first career leadoff homer and the seventh of his career at Wrigley Field -- one more than he has hit in 244 games at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. Mercer scored the Pirates' second run and drove in their third when he was hit in the foot by a Lester curveball.
"I think he just made some mistakes out over the plate that he doesn't usually," Mercer said. "I was able to get a couple pitches out over the plate, put some good swings on them and drive them."
Back to closing:Hector Rondon got a big four-out save after he came in to get Sean Rodriguez to fly out to end the eighth inning, then set down the Pirates in order in the ninth. Rondon had blown his past two save opportunities entering the game. This was only the second save of his career of more than one inning.
Pen pals: The Pirates' bullpen has been their weakness much of the season, particularly when the Bucs were trailing or tied. But after Niese's early exit, manager Clint Hurdle turned to three of his top relievers -- Jared Hughes, Neftali Feliz and Mark Melancon -- to hold the line. They did just that, putting up a combined 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Lester has earned a victory in five consecutive starts for the first time since winning six straight from Aug. 27-Sept. 25, 2010.
The Pirates have lost four straight games for the fifth time this season.
In the bottom of the fourth, Javier Baez appeared picked off and tagged out heading to second base. But as Baez came up after sliding into second, he immediately pointed to the dugout wanting a review. Baez pulled his left arm and used a swim move to avoid Mercer's tag and reach second, a move he has used before this season. After review, Baez was called safe on what became an important call. Baez took third on a wild pitch and later scored on the Ross squeeze.
"That was a pretty Matrix slide by him," Mercer said. "What do you do, right? There's nothing you can do. He made a good slide."
Said Maddon: "I want him to always err on the side of aggressiveness. I love risk-takers. When you see something, go for it. Don't tread lightly. You'll never win anything by approaching the game or anything like that. I love his musketeer kind of attitude going about all of this."
Pirates: Right-hander Jameson Taillon will make his third start, his first against someone other than the Mets, when the Pirates return to Wrigley Field on Sunday night. Taillon carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning Tuesday and threw eight scoreless innings to record his first Major League win.
Cubs: Right-hander Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs in the series finale against the Pirates on Sunday at Wrigley Field. Hendricks is 0-1 with a 6.63 ERA in four starts against the Pirates, all of which came last season.
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