Jeff Locke lasted only five shaky innings, but the Pirates' bullpen allowed their offense time to get online and fight back from a three-run deficit, as the Bucs earned a series split with a 5-4 win.
"Arguably, for me, this is one of the best team wins we've had since I've been here," Clint Hurdle said. "What we went out there with and how we were able to battle."
Playing short-handed, with neither Starling Marte nor Andrew McCutchen in the starting lineup and Tony Watson and Jared Hughes unavailable out of the bullpen, the Pirates came back from a 4-1 deficit in impressive fashion today. By the end of the game every position player received some playing time and Radhames Liz, Arquimedes Caminero and Mark Melancon were excellent out of the bullpen.
"Absolutely [a great team win]," Chris Stewart said. "We had a lot of guys that had a day off or given a break and other guys stepped up huge."
The Cubs started the scoring in the second, posting two runs on Jonathan Herrera's two-out, two-run triple. Sean Rodriguez almost robbed Herrera, as he raced to the notch and came close to making a spectacular diving catch on the warning track. The ball clipped off his glove and hit the wall as the runner scored.
"I knew that part of the track was a little deeper, but running out there you still don't necessarily get a feel for where the wall is," Rodriguez said. "I gave it everything I had but if I had a glove about an inch-and-a-half longer, I would have had it."
Rodriguez got one of the runs back in the bottom half of the second by hitting a long and loud home run over the centerfield wall and into the visitor's bullpen.
"He threw a pitch out over the plate that I was able to extend and get the barrel to," Rodriguez said. "You don't really feel [home runs like that] off the bat. It's hard to say there is a feeling for it. It's smooth; it's comfortable. That's how you want to hit a ball."
In the fourth, Addison Russell collected his first major league RBI on a double to the right-center field wall that scored Starlin Castro. Inexplicably, Russell tried to steal third a batter later with two outs and was thrown out by Stewart.
With the score 3-1, the Cubs threatened to blow it open in the fifth. After allowing a single-double-walk sequence, Locke walked Kris Bryant with the bases loaded. Starlin Castro followed and promptly hit into an inning ending double play, thus keeping the Pirates within striking distance, 4-1.
"As big of a pitch that was made in the game was that ground ball double play," Hurdle said. "If we don't get that double play right there, I'm not sure we win the game."
A wild bottom of the sixth, in which the Pirates scored three runs on four hits and a walk, tied the game 4-4. Josh Harrison led off the inning with a double. After Andrew Lambo grounded out to second, Gregory Polanco doubled off the Clemente Wall scoring Harrison. Neil Walker grounded a perfectly paced and placed single to center that scored Polanco. Pedro Alvarez walked, and couple of pitches later Walker and Alvarez were on second and third due to Welington Castillo's throwing error on an attempted pick-off at first. Jordy Mercer then netted an RBI on a single that scored Walker. With an excellent opportunity to grab the lead, the next two Pirates hitters, Rodriguez and Chris Stewart, failed to bring home Alvarez from third.
The Pirates finally jumped out to the lead in the seventh when Polanco battled back from an 0-2 count and grounded an RBI single through the hole between short and third. The hit brought Harrison home with what ended up being the game-winnning run. Polanco went 3-4 with two RBIs on the day.
"Basically, he got a pitch and went with it," Hurdle said. "It was the battle at-bat we needed today, most definitely."
Jeff Locke allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings. He walked three while striking out seven.
"Locke didn't have his best stuff today, but he kept us in the game," Stewart said. "He threw whatever he had to throw to make it happen out there. His last pitch was a big changeup for a double play that I think was the biggest play in the game."
In a very welcome development, the Pirates' bullpen threw four scoreless innings.
Liz cleared the sixth and seventh, allowing only one hit and picking up two strikeouts.
"That was what we needed, that was what he needed," Hurdle said. "He was able to get extension and maintain the head slot that we talked about beforehand. Very timely for him, and for us."
Liz earned his first win the majors since 2008.
"It feels good, it makes me feel more part of the team," Liz said. "I wanted to come back and I'm here ... You know, it's just what you keep in your heart. I believed."
Caminero dominated the eighth and Melancon (gasp) went clean in the ninth for the save.
"I believe in guys," Hurdle said, when asked about Melancon's bounce-back appearance. "It's good to see. It's good for him. It's a confidence-builder. He's the guy for the situation."
Melancon's fastball velocity still sat at 88-89 MPH, but he induced some weak contact and a couple of swinging strikes.
"Sometimes you got to believe in things you've seen in past and just give another opportunity," Hurdle said.