Rookie Gerrit Cole helped himself with a two-run single, Pedro Alvarez drove in three runs and Jordy Mercer added a solo home run to lift the Pirates to an 8-2 victory over the Cubs. With one game remaining at Wrigley on Wednesday, the Cubs now are 30-50 at home, and 35-43 on the road with three games to play in St. Louis. They will finish with more wins away from home for just the third time since 1996.
"Home and away, you always prefer the atmosphere at home," Chicago's Darwin Barney said. "It's hard to say why our record is that way. ... Finding a way to win at home is important and having a winning season. [Winning at home] is not something we're going to focus on -- we're going to focus on getting better, and as we get better, we'll play better at home, and our fans will be there for us and help us along the way. We have to put a product on the field that's worthy of that."
What's even more strange is that the record is a flip-flop from last year, when the Cubs were 23-58 on the road. In 2012, they were 38-43 at Wrigley Field.
"This year has been tough," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We just seem to do more on the road this year than we have at home."
Cole was tough, too. The rookie right-hander scattered seven hits over six innings for the win as the Pirates continued to jockey for position in the postseason with the Cardinals and Reds.
"What he had to do tonight was go work and pitch," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Cole. "This is the big leagues. He has a responsibility to go out there and get outs. That's why we left him in, and that's why we gave him the ball. We did have some backup help if needed, but it's a growing experience for him as well."
Chris Rusin is still learning, too. He had one of his best starts Sept. 12 against the Pirates at PNC Park, giving up four hits over seven innings. On Tuesday, he couldn't keep any of his pitches down, and the Pirates totaled four runs on six hits over 2 1/3 innings.
"I was able to locate my pitches," Rusin said of that earlier start in Pittsburgh. "This game today, all my pitches were up, offspeed, fastballs. I wasn't able to keep the ball down and didn't do myself any favors."
Rusin made seven starts with the big league team last year and nearly doubled that this season, with 13. The Cubs have Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson set for the 2014 rotation, with Jake Arrieta "penciled in." Despite Tuesday's outing, add Rusin to the list.
"From what we saw last year and this year, the biggest thing is the maturity of the young man and what he's done at the big league level," Sveum said. "He's made pitches when he's had to. It's a result of the little time he had last year. It's a big deal for guys to get a cup of coffee."
Rusin may have simply tired out. He totaled 187 1/3 innings between Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs. The only rough outings in the big leagues have been the last two.
"I'm not satisfied [with this season], but I did a lot better than I did last year, and I want to keep improving," Rusin said.
After an efficient 13-pitch first by the lefty, Marlon Byrd singled to lead off the Pirates' second, and Gaby Sanchez walked. One out later, Alvarez hit a ground-rule double that bounced into the ivy in right. Byrd scored on the hit. One out later, Cole helped himself with a two-run single to open a 3-0 lead.
The Cubs had a chance in the second, when Dioner Navarro singled and Nate Schierholtz followed with a single. But Schierholtz apparently forgot Navarro was ahead of him and didn't see that he'd stopped at second. Schierholtz was thrown out before he could get back to first.
"I can't say I've seen that one before," Sveum said. "I think he lost track that somebody else was on base."
Mercer made it 4-0 with a leadoff home run in the Pirates' third. Starlin Castro hit an RBI single in the Chicago half, but Alvarez delivered a two-run double with the bases loaded in the fifth.
The Cubs loaded the bases with none out in the sixth and tallied on a fielding error by Mercer, who couldn't pick up Anthony Rizzo's grounder in time to make a play. Cole then struck out the next two batters and got Donnie Murphy to fly out to Byrd on the warning track in right and end the inning.
After Monday's game, Samardzija said the team has some things that need to be "ironed out."
"I don't think we're by any means a dysfunctional clubhouse," Barney said. "I think there are a lot of players getting their feet wet. I think there's a lot of competition going on along with a rough season.
"It's still a pleasant place to come and play every day, but it's definitely much better when you can leave here with a win. I think that's what everybody is focusing on here: how can we make this team win, and how can we make this team better?"