Only Mother Nature could stop the Pirates’ offensive barrage on Edwin Jackson.
In the first two innings, the Bucs smacked six hits and brought in four runs on the opposing starting pitcher, en route to a 4-2 Thursday afternoon victory and sweep over the Chicago Cubs. While Jackson struck out six batters, he also left plenty of pitches down the middle for the Pirates to smack.
Then it began to rain.
Jackson and mound opponent Jeanmar Gomez were removed after the 107-minute intermission. What followed was the Pirates (29-18) once again cruising to victory with few hits while the bullpen held up its innings for the fourth-straight win.
“Jeanmar gaves us what we needed to get from him,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
How The Pirates Got Their Runs
Starling Marte led off the 1st with an infield single toward the shortstop, then stole second base to allow Andrew McCutchen to drive him in with an RBI single. That’s classic top-of-the-lineup run production. Two batters later, Michael McKenry hit another RBI single to score McCutchen and give the Pirates a 2-0 lead despite Edwin Jackson striking out the side.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well this whole month,” McCutchen said. “After I swing the bat, there’s nothing else I can do.”
Marte pulled the same move again with two outs in the 2nd inning, hitting a leadoff single off the glove of Jackson. This time, though, Travis Snider smacked an RBI triple into the North Shore Notch to score Marte, then McCutchen hit another single to score Snider. After two low-scoring games, the Pirates had pounced on Edwin Jackson for four runs.
Such outings have become common for Jackson, Chicago’s $52-million signing, who has collected a hefty 52 strikeouts in 53 innings this season but is now the proud owner of a 6.11 ERA. The Cubs’ bullpen was (unexpectedly) solid, allowing only three hits over five innings. Special props go to Carlos Villanueva, who pitched two scoreless frames, including striking out McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Neil Walker 1-2-3.
Gomez Fine Before The Rain
Jeanmar Gomez faced the minimum through three innings, but the Cubs got on the scoreboard in the 4th. David DeJesus hit a leadoff double off the right field wall, moved to third base via Starlin Castro’s single, then scored on Anthony Rizzo’s RBI ground ball. Garrett Jones’ fielding error meant the Cubs had two runner on base when the game was delayed, but Vin Mazzaro got the final out of that 4th inning.
Gomez gave up only three hits in his 3.2-inning start, not enough innings for the win, but he was effective once again before the rain delay.
“One hour, 47 minutes is a long time to get back to pitch,” Gomez said. “I was disappointed, but it’s part of the game. It rained hard.”
Mazzaro was strong in relief as well, earning the win by pitching 2.1 scoreless innings and scattering two singles. Castro hit one of those singles to the right-field corner, but Travis Snider delivered a laser throw to get him out at second base.
“I’ve always been impressed with Mazzaro,” said catcher Michael McKenry. “His attitude really fits in the bullpen. He’s got an electric sinker. It’s really heavy.”
In the 7th, the Cubs got the tying man aboard on Ryan Sweeney’s RBI single, but Justin Wilson drew a David DeJesus fly-out on a nice sliding grab by McCutchen into the Bermuda Triangle of shallow center. McCutchen went 3-for-4 with three singles to go with his stellar catch, bringing his season batting average to .291 after having a .238 season average on May 1.
“Everybody knew it was coming,” said McKenry about McCutchen’s offensive surge. “If you didn’t know it was coming, I don’t know where your head’s at.”
Closing Out A Win – And A Homestand
Justin Wilson pitched 1-2-3 inning in the 8th, and Jason Grilli picked up his 19th save with a 1-2-3 closeout. The Pirates are now tied with the Cincinnati Reds for second place and trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 1.5 games for first in the NL Central.
The Pirates finished up their homestand 8-2 against three teams under .500 this year, though the sweep of the Cubs came against some good starting pitching in Jackson, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza.
“We played some pretty good games, some battles,” third baseman Pedro Alvarez said. “It’s good momentum going into these series coming up.”
All the wins except one were by two runs or fewer, but the Pirates leave for Milwaukee having taken advantage of subpar opposition.
“You’ll take 8-2 every time you go, no matter who you are playing,” Hurdle said. “Certain people you’re supposed to beat, the game doesn’t know that.”
The game better take notice of these Pittsburgh Pirates, who allowed only three runs per game this homestand, and are now out to vanquish some demons at Miller Park.
The only thing certain at the retractable-roof stadium in Milwaukee where the Pirates have struggled so much? No rain delays.