This one started as a baseball postcard, with Wrigley Field providing its one-of-kind baseball atmosphere on a brilliant afternoon in Chicago. It ended with the Pirates perhaps convincing a few more skeptics that something special is happening in Pittsburgh this season. The Pirates controlled the Cubs most of the afternoon and rolled to a 6-2 victory.
The score does not do justice to the stark difference between the two clubs today, especially defensively. The Cubs were sloppy, failing to make a handful of defensive plays that cost them runs. The Pirates, on the other hand, were clean and seemingly everywhere. If a baseball defense can be described as "swarming" and "dominating," then that's the proper way to describe what we saw today. Infielders positioned perfectly, Liriano throwing them ground balls, and when a baserunner fell asleep Russell Martin picked him off.
Offensively, the Pirates got to Samardzija early and often, putting nine of their first 13 hitters on base and scoring four runs.
"I think he was up again," Hurdle said of Samardzija, "we hit some balls early and that made us confident. He's still good. He's still a beast out there."
The scoring started in the second. Pedro Alvarez led off the inning with a drive to right field that ended up dying in the face of strong wind blowing in from the right field. Russell Martin then hit a fly ball/line drive mix down the right field line that bounced into the corner for a double. After Tabata struck out, the Cubs intentionally walked Mercer to set up a presumably favorable two-out encounter against the Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano. But Liriano reached out and dropped an opposite field line drive just in front of Cubs' left fielder Alfonso Soriano scoring Martin. The Bucs had the early lead, 1-0
The Cubs got on the board in the bottom of the second after Ransom walked and made it all the way to third on a bounce out into a dramatically shifted Pirates defense. The ball hopped over Pirates' first baseman Garrett Jones' head but Neil Walker, playing deep into the traditional hole between first and second, fielded it and tossed Rizzo out. While that was going on Ransom made his way to third as the base was left vacated. The shift gained the Pirates an out, but cost them a base.
"Yeah that's unfortunately the second time our shift's been violated," Hurdle said, "as soon as that ball is hit Pedro's got to go to third."
With Ransom on third, Scott Hairston dropped a home run into the left field bleachers and the Cubs moved ahead 2-1.
In the third the Pirates tied, and then regained the lead. Marte started the inning off with a bunt single, then stole second. Walker jumped on a 2-2 fastball, knocking it into the right centerfield gap. It probably should have been cut off by Sappelt, but the Cubs' centerfielder appeared to take a bad angle and it got by him and rolled all the way to the wall. By the time Sappelt retrieved it, Walker was at third and Marte had scored. McCutchen followed with a walk and Jones singled, scoring Walker and putting the Pirates ahead 3-2. With runners on first and third and a full count on Martin, the Bucs got aggressive. Samardzija threw a fastball, Jones took off for second, Martin swung and missed, striking out. Cubs' catcher Dioner Navarro threw down to second attempting to catch Jones stealing and when he did Andrew McCutchen took off for home. The Cubs did not respond well to the double steal as the ball was thrown high to second and both baserunners were safe.
"We thought we'd take a chance, ran Sanchez the other day, ran Jones today, we got a high throw and Cutch made a perfect read" Hurdle described the play afterwards.
After giving up the home run to Hairston in the second, Francisco Liriano cruised through the next seven innings on his way to a complete game (the Pirates first of the season) . He wasn't necessarily dominate (four walks, seven strikeouts), but he threw ground balls (13 groundouts) - and we all know what happens to ground balls hit to this defense - and he was efficient. Exactly the formula for sustainability that Clint Hurdle talked about on Wednesday.
So on an afternoon when the Pirates played one of their most complete games of the season, their starting pitcher fittingly gained the club's first complete game of the year.
The Pirates improved their record to 53-32 with the win.
(If I survive the postgame "chat" with a prominent member of this board in Wrigleyville, I'll be right back here tomorrow to provide coverage when Charlie Morton faces off against Edwin Jackson.)