Pirates edged by Cubs, fall to second place in Central
Pittsburgh hits three straight homers, but bullpen can't hold lead
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' hex on Friday the 13th continued, as the Cubs defeated Pittsburgh, 5-4, in front of 35,962 fans at PNC Park.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Pirates have lost 11 consecutive games on Friday the 13th. The loss also snapped a four-game Pirates winning streak and pushed Pittsburgh to a game back in the National League Central, as the Cardinals beat the Mariners in 10 innings. The Bucs hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Reds for the top NL Wild Card spot.
Right-hander Charlie Morton started for the Pirates. There was some doubt about whether Morton would be able to pitch after he left in the second inning last Sunday at St. Louis because of pain from plantar fasciitis in his left heel; however, he tossed five innings and allowed three runs on four hits to finish with a no-decision.
"Morton had to grind one out tonight," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think he went out there with intent and purpose; the sinker didn't play consistently. The one inning he left three balls up and left-handers squared them up. But he battled."
"They swung the bat, they put a lot of good swings on the ball," Morton said. "They are professionals. You don't make a good pitch, and even when you do, sometimes good hitters are going to hit it. It doesn't matter who you are facing, they're pros."
Pirates reliever Jason Grilli was tagged with the loss after allowing a go-ahead two-run homer to Anthony Rizzo in the seventh to fall to 0-2.
"Grilli is so close, and we need to keep him in play," Hurdle said. "It's not like we try to pitch him every other day. Three days down at the most to get him back in there to get him consistent work, and this is another time where there's two outs and he's just one pitch away from getting out of an inning.
"We weren't able to put away [Luis] Valbuena, and that one ended up hurting. The pitch to Rizzo, and it ended up out of the park. We've got to keep getting him out there on a somewhat consistent basis if we want to get him better. He's not going to get better not pitching."
Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta pitched five-plus innings and allowed four runs, three earned, on six hits. Right-hander Carlos Villanueva picked up the win in relief to up his record to 6-8.
The Cubs scratched out a run off Morton in the top of the second inning. Nate Schierholtz drew a leadoff walk and was sacrificed to second base by Ryan Sweeney. Brian Bogusevic singled to left, putting runners on first and third. Darwin Barney bounced into a fielder's choice to score Schierholtz and give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Morton was touched up for two more runs in the fourth inning. With two outs and Dioner Navarro on base, Bogusevic smacked a two-run home run to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
The Pirates broke through against Arrieta in the bottom of the fourth inning. Pedro Alvarez had gone 15 games without a home run since taking over the NL lead with his 32nd blast on Aug. 27. With two outs, Alvarez smacked an inside-the-park home run off the fence in right-center. Russell Martin followed with his 14th home run of the season. Garrett Jones then stroked his 14th home run to tie the game at 3.
"The first one to Alvarez was a good cutter middle-in, and somehow he was able to put the barrel on it," Arrieta said. "It sounded good, and as high as he hit it, I didn't think there was a chance it was going to get out. Some fan interference there, a close call, but nobody said anything of it.
"Russell coming up, the second home run, he's a veteran hitter and I wanted to execute down and away, and I left it up and he did the damage there," Arrieta said. "Garrett Jones, I started him off with a really good breaking ball, and I threw another one and left it a little too much in the middle of the plate, and he did a good job putting a good swing on it."
"You know, you don't see it all the time, and when you see it, it usually happens in a hurry," Hurdle said. "Balls were up and elevated, and our guys put good swings on them."
It was the first time the Pirates had hit three consecutive home runs in one inning since Aug. 20, 2003, at St. Louis, when Jason Kendall, Brian Giles and Reggie Sanders accomplished the feat. The last time it happened for the Pirates at home was July 6, 1955, against Brooklyn, when Jerry Lynch, Frank Thomas and Dale Long homered.
After Andrew McCutchen doubled to lead off the sixth inning, Arrieta was replaced by lefty Brooks Raley. With one out, Alvarez reached base on an error by Raley trying to cover first base, allowing McCutchen to race home and give the Pirates a 4-3 lead.
The Cubs came back against Grilli. Following a two-out walk to Valbuena, Rizzo crushed his 22nd home run of the season to give Chicago a 5-4 lead.
"He threw me a slider," Rizzo explained. "He's an All-Star closer coming in the seventh for this team. That says a lot about the Pirates. He was down and in, and I just put a good swing on it and tried not to do too much."
Cubs right-hander Kevin Gregg pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up his 32nd save.