CHICAGO -- Gregory Polanco smacked a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning to offset back-to-back blasts by Chicago rookie Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber, lifting the Pirates to a 4-2 victory over the Cubs on Saturday night.
Ivan Nova ended the first half on a high note, giving up three hits, including the two home runs, while striking out six over 6 2/3 innings.
"It's what we've seen from this guy since we got him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Mixed up his pitches extremely well. He had 10 guys retired on three pitches or less. ... [And] my goodness -- three hits."
The Pirates trailed, 2-1, when Josh Bell led off the sixth with a ground-rule double, as the ball got stuck in the ivy in center at Wrigley Field. One out later, Polanco drove a 1-1 pitch off the outside corner from Jacob Arrieta into the bleachers in left-center. Francisco Cervelli then singled and scored on Jordy Mercer's double for a 4-2 lead.
"Maybe. Probably," said the 6-foot-4 Polanco, sheepishly chuckling after he was asked if he was able to drive the pitch because of his height and long reach. "I tried to put a good swing, and I'm pretty tall."
Hurdle added that the homer really energized the team.
"That's a big shot in the arm. We're one run down, and our guy has pitched a good game," Hurdle said. "We've had not so many opportunities, but we're seeing pitches, we're seeing pitches. We're trying to make pushes on Arrieta, and we haven't cracked them yet."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon couldn't believe Polanco connected on that pitch.
"That pitch almost looked like a pitchout, it was so far away from him, and he hit it well," Maddon said. "I did not see all of that coming that quickly. ... I thought Jake was doing really well up to that point."
• Bell delivers off Arrieta on anniversary of MLB debut
Arrieta said he relied too much on his sinker in the sixth and didn't mix his pitches up that inning.
"It's easy to look back and say you should have done this or that, but if you execute those pitches, you don't have to re-evaluate the situation," Arrieta said. "What it came down to was those two pitches [to Bell and Polanco]."
The Cubs right-hander now is 0-4 in his last six starts against the Pirates dating back to July 2016. Prior to that he was 10-1 with a 1.31 ERA in 13 starts, including his win over the Bucs in the 2015 National League Wild Card Game.
"It's been a little bit of a roller coaster," Maddon said of Arrieta's first half. The right-hander has gone fewer than six innings in four of his last six starts.
The same can be said for the Cubs, who now have alternated wins and losses over their last seven games, and have not won consecutive games since a three-game stretch from June 18-20.
"It's frustrating, because we'll play well for a short period of time and then have a lull," Arrieta said. "That's been the story of the season."
The game started well for the Pirates, as Andrew McCutchen robbed Benjamin Zobrist of a potential extra-base hit with a diving grab in left-center in the first.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Saving the day: With one out in the Chicago eighth, pinch-hitter Thomas La Stella doubled and moved up on Zobrist's grounder. Felipe Rivero took over for Juan Nicasio, and walked Kristopher Bryant to set up Anthony Rizzo, who grounded out to end the inning. Rivero stayed in to pitch the ninth and now is 6-for-6 in save situations with an impressive 0.76 ERA.
"I mean, we've done it with Rivero in the past, so it's nothing new," Hurdle said of the 1 1/3-inning outing. "That's our closer.
"And that's a hard spot for Juan -- he's done a good job," Hurdle added. "You're going to put your best on them in that situation."
Back to back: Happ and Schwarber both connected with two outs in the fourth off Nova. Schwarber's homer was significant, as it was his first since an 11-game demotion to Triple-A Iowa to work on his swing. He launched a 1-0 pitch 416 feet into the left-field bleachers for his second opposite-field hit of the game. When Schwarber trotted out to left field for the fifth inning, the bleacher fans gave him a standing ovation.
"That was a pretty cool moment," Schwarber said of the reception. More >
• The Cubs' bullpen celebrated Schwarber's homer by breaking into dance
"My goodness. We just won tonight, man. Show up tomorrow, we'll talk about it." -- Hurdle, with a smile, when asked about the prospect of heading into the All-Star break with a two-game win streak
Zobrist hit a grounder to second baseman Adam Frazier to open the Chicago sixth and was called out. The Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned and Zobrist was safe. Frazier was charged with an error.
Pirates:Jameson Taillon will get the ball for the series finale at Wrigley Field on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. The right-hander has been dominant since returning from surgery, going 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA over his last five starts and striking out a career-best nine batters in his last outing.
Cubs:Jonathan Lester has a chance to finish the first half with a winning record with a victory on Sunday in the final game before the All-Star break. Lester is 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA at Wrigley Field. He's coming off a loss to the Rays in which he gave up five earned runs over five innings. First pitch is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. CT.
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