PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs arrived at PNC Park on Sunday morning in need of a better start from John Lackey and a road series victory. They packed up their bags and headed home Sunday afternoon with both in tow and a .500 record. Lackey pitched six strong innings, leading the Cubs to a 7-1 win and their first series win on the road since their last trip to Pittsburgh in late April.
Lackey hasn't kept the ball in the park lately -- a recurring problem for the veteran right-hander -- but he mostly kept the Pirates off the bases. Shortstop Jordy Mercer lined a solo home run to left in the fifth, but it was the only run and just one of two hits Pittsburgh managed against Lackey, who struck out four and walked three.
"I'm just going to try to do my job," Lackey said. "It was really cool to pitch on Father's Day as a dad."
Lackey had plenty of run support, and the Cubs' success against the Pirates' pitching started from the top. Leadoff man Anthony Rizzo went 3-for-5 with a homer and a double, and Pittsburgh native Ian Happ homered in the ninth inning. No. 3-hitting catcher Willson Contreras drove in three runs with a pair of doubles off Pirates starter Jameson Taillon, who allowed four runs on eight hits over five innings in his second start since undergoing surgery for testicular cancer.
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"They've seen me a few times. They know I'm going to be around the zone," Taillon said. "Dating back to last year, if you're going to get me, the first inning is a good time. I think I kind of knew going in they were going to be swinging. I guess I didn't think it'd be four swings in the first four pitches, but I was kind of expecting it."
Jonathan Jay got in on the action from the nine hole, going 3-for-4 and scoring two runs. Since taking two of three from the Pirates at PNC Park from April 24-26, the Cubs had lost six straight series away from Wrigley Field.
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"I don't think any of us take them lightly, even based off where their numbers and averages are compared to last year," Taillon said of the Cubs. "They are still professional hitters."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
First things first: Rizzo might have found a new home in the leadoff spot. The Cubs' slugging first baseman stayed hot atop the order, beginning the game with a double to left then ripping a single to right in the third against Taillon. In the seventh, Rizzo launched a two-run homer -- the 150th of his career -- to center field off lefty reliever Wade LeBlanc. Rizzo improved to 9-for-22 (.409) since being moved to the leadoff spot. More >
"He got the momentum rolling," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Rizzo. "It definitely does something to the other side's pitcher."
"It's crazy, it's weird, it's funny but it's great," Rizzo said. "We've played better baseball and hit the ball better. It's good to finally win a road series. It's been awhile."
Catching on: Contreras' first Major League plate appearance came against the Pirates last Father's Day at Wrigley Field, where he smashed the first pitch he saw into the seats for a two-run homer. He put together another memorable performance on Sunday, hitting a pair of RBI doubles in the first three innings. After putting the Cubs on the board in the first inning, Contreras pulled a two-run double to left field in the third inning to pad Lackey's lead.
Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward had to leave the game with a left hand abrasion. Heyward slid on the warning track in the second inning chasing David Freese's foul ball and received treatment on his hand after that. He stayed in the game and was then removed after the fourth inning. Maddon said the injury is not serious but it was becoming difficult for Heyward to hold the bat.
"It's awesome to do it at home, awesome to do it in front of a lot of people who have been with me. It was pretty special." -- Happ, on hitting a home run in his hometown in front of family and friends
"He got in some jams, made some pitches. That's what a veteran does. For me, though, just seeing what he was doing, he was locating. His fastball was really good. He doesn't throw as hard as he used to, but it doesn't matter if you locate. If you locate well consistently and make guys expand a little bit when you need to, that's all that matters."--Mercer, on Lackey
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Mercer is hitting .390 with eight doubles, two triples, four homers and 14 RBIs in his last 24 games, and he's hit safely in 25 of his last 30 games. Since May 16, Mercer has raised his season average 76 points (.203 to .279) and his OPS by 191 points (.586 to .777).
Cubs:Jonathan Lester opens the Cubs' brief three-game homestand on Monday against the Padres. He's 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA in eight home starts at Wrigley Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
Pirates: Right-hander Gerrit Cole, coming off a strong seven-inning start against the Rockies on Tuesday, will start for the Pirates as they begin a four-game series against the Brewers at 7:40 p.m. ET on Monday at Miller Park. Milwaukee's ballpark has historically been a house of horrors for the Bucs, but they won their last two series there last season.
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