On a night that was hot, then rainy, then blustery, Travis Snider’s swing was the real force of nature.
Snider didn’t start against right-hander Matt Garza, but the Cubs bullpen arrived for the 6th inning and he took some cuts in the batting cage to get ready to pinch-hit.
The situation: bases loaded in the 6th inning, down 3-1 and facing former teammate Shawn Camp.
“He tends to get a lot of guys to chase outside the zone,” Snider said. “He made a mistake up in the zone… I was able to sit back on a change-up.”
Snider sent the elevated mistake flying to right-center field, then wondered if it had enough lift to clear the fence 389 feet away. He knew it was close, though.
“I pimped a double earlier this year, so I’m trying to avoid the thought of knowing that it’s gone,” Snider said.
And then… gone. The fan in the first row was the only man who could catch it. With that swing, the Pirates were up by two runs en route to a 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. Snider gave a curtain call to the (supposed) 16,092 fans at PNC Park to mark his first career grand slam.
Snider’s shot was part of a 6th inning in which the Bucs (27-18) sent 11 hitters to the plate, got five hits and erased the great season debut of Garza (five scoreless innings, one hit, three walks). Neil Walker led off the 6th with a double just inside the right-field line off Hector Rondon, who then loaded the bases by allowing Garrett Jones to hit a bloop single and walking Russell Martin.
Left-hander James Russell was brought in to face Pedro Alvarez, and he walked his only batter on seven pitches. Camp jogged in and got Gaby Sanchez to fly out to left field, short enough that Jones did not run home to test Alfonso Soriano’s arm.
“Soriano has played as good a left field here in three years as I’ve seen anybody play,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
But Snider arrived as a pinch-hitter for Clint Barmes and struck on a 2-1 pitch for the slam. It was the Pirates’ first pinch-hit grand slam since Jason Michaels delivered one in 2008.
“[With the bases loaded,] the pressure’s not on us,” Snider said. “They have to make a pitch, try and get you to chase or come right after you.”
Wandy Not Magic Early
The Cubs got out to a 3-0 lead in the 2nd inning off Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez. Soriano and Wellington Castillo picked up the game’s first two hits, then Darwin Barney hit a sharp grounder through the left side to score Soriano with two outs. It was the first of Barney’s game-high four hits, coming with Rodriguez one pitch away from a scoreless frame. Next batter Garza drove a ripe fastball into the right-center gap to drive in two.
“He got confused with Garza,” said Rodriguez’s interpreter, bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade. “He thought it was going to take one pitch. So he just threw the ball off the plate… He thought he was going to take that pitch.”
Those were all the runs Chicago’s meager offense could muster for the first eight innings, despite 11 total hits. Rodriguez ended his night by retiring 10 of his last 11 hitters, earning a quality start (6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 5 K) and his team-high fifth win.
“He had decent stuff, not his most electric stuff that I’ve seen.” said catcher Russell Martin on Rodriguez, who allowed no walks. “But for the most part, it wasn’t necessarily stuff, just his command.”
Bullpen Wraps It Up, Barely
Relievers Justin Wilson and Mark Melancon each pitched a scoreless inning in support of Rodriguez. The Cubs (18-26) got back-to-back singles off Justin Wilson with one out in the 7th inning, but the left-hander struck out Julio Borbon and got Starlin Castro to ground out to smother the fire.
In the 9th, though, the Cubs tested closer Jason Grilli by getting 90 feet from scoring the tying run. With two men aboard, Castro hit a single to right field to put Chicago with one run. Grilli struck out Anthony Rizzo with his sharp slider to finish up his league-leading 18th save, but needed 35 pitches to do so.
“It’s not all gonna be pretty, man. They’re not always easy,” Grilli said. “I didn’t have my best stuff tonight… the best pitch I threw was the last one to Rizzo.”
Garza Comes Out Firing
Garza delivered great results in his 2013 debut, but only lasted five innings and 82 pitches due to the 90-pitch limit set by manager Dale Sveum. Despite getting into seven three-ball counts, Garza pitched around trouble in the 4th and 5th innings to keep the Pirates off the board.
“Live fastball, both sides of the plate with late life,” Hurdle said about Garza. “The breaking ball, the change-up, that’s the kid that they wanted when they made the deal… That’s almost a year away from the game. That’s electric stuff.”
But Chicago’s bullpen was there to squander the day for it starting pitcher, including a Pirates-high two hits to Jordy Mercer.
On one “mistake” pitch up in the zone, Travis Snider channeled the man whose jersey sits in his locker, Mario Lemieux. His swing was “magnifique” this night, and a reporter asked Rodriguez if Snider’s grand slam is going to cost Wandy a steak.
Rodriguez said, to laughs, “Sí.”
Which prompted another reporter to ask, “Is that yes?”