Cole outduels Lester as Bucs take finale
CHICAGO -- Gerrit Cole made a statement on Sunday, throwing eight shutout innings, and Jung Ho Kang smacked an RBI double and solo homer as the Pirates took a 2-1 victory over the Cubs and Jon Lester, who no-hit Pittsburgh through 6 1/3 innings.
The Pirates notched their first victory in six games against the Cubs this season.
"It was just an opportunity to try to salvage the series," Cole said. "I don't really think they're the best team in baseball, so it's just one game at a time. It doesn't really matter who you're playing. You just have to keep going at them."
Dexter Fowler led off the Cubs' first with a double that shortstop Jordy Mercer lost in the sun, and Chicago collected two more hits off Cole, including a double by Ben Zobrist with two outs in the fourth.
"Both sides pitched really well, both guys were on their game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Cole and Lester. "That was as good as we've seen Cole in a while. There's nothing to complain about -- it was just a really well-played baseball game, and we got beat today."
Kang, whose double in the seventh came one out after Starling Marte ended Lester's no-hit bid with a single, hit his fourth home run in eight games this season with one out in the ninth, launching a 3-2 fastball from Cubs closer Hector Rondon into the left-field bleachers.
"I'm impressed to the degree that this is a special guy, so when he does things, it's not like I'm one who says, 'That's unbelievable,'" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about Kang. "No, it's believable. He keeps doing things that shows you that he's a quality ballplayer, and he has a great feel for the game."
The Cubs, who lead the Majors in run differential, tallied in the ninth on Anthony Rizzo's sacrifice fly off Mark Melancon.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Seventh: On May 19, 2008, Lester threw a no-hitter for the Red Sox against the Royals. On Sunday, he held the Pirates hitless until Marte's single on his 101st pitch. Lester struck out nine and walked two, throwing a season-high 109 pitches over 6 2/3 innings. He was lifted after Kang's double. Lester was well aware of the situation.
"You've got giant numbers out there telling you what your pitch count is at and you've got a giant scoreboard telling you that you haven't given up any hits," Lester said. "It really doesn't matter now."
Lost and found: Judging by the Pirates' first defensive play, it seemed as if they were in for another long day against the Cubs. Mercer lost Fowler's ball in the sun and it fell between him and second baseman Josh Harrison in shallow center. Fowler was credited with a double, but Cole kept the mistake from hurting. He struck out Jason Heyward, got Kris Bryant to pop out and Rizzo to fly out to end the inning.
Closing time: Rondon took over in the Pirates ninth, and after striking out Francisco Cervelli, served up Kang's homer. It was the second run off Rondon in 15 games this season and the first home run. Rondon is still a perfect 7-for-7 in save situations.
Closed case: Hurdle made a tough decision when he pulled Cole and sent closer Mark Melancon out for the ninth. Melancon surrendered one run, but was able to close the door when Ben Zobrist grounded out to Harrison, who was stationed in the outfield grass, to end the game.
"You send your closer out there in the ninth, you're pretty much gonna die with him as well," Hurdle said. "I felt our best bet to win that game at that point in time was to put the guy in there, in Melancon, that's made a living doing it."
Pirates: Left-hander Jonathon Niese starts for the Pirates to open a four-game series against the Braves on Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Niese is 3-2 with a 1.93 ERA in his past eight starts against the Braves.
Cubs: After an off-day Monday, the Cubs hit the road, beginning with three games in Milwaukee. Kyle Hendricks will start Wednesday at Miller Park. He is 4-1 with a 1.49 ERA in seven starts against the Brewers. First pitch will be 7:10 p.m. CT.
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