Cubs starter Jake Arrieta dominated the Pirates for seven innings tonight, allowing only two hits and not allowing a Pirates runner to advance to second base until the seventh inning. On the other side of the field, J.A. Happ did nothing in his Pirates debut to suggest that he is ready to assume the role of a viable short- or a long-term replacement for the injured A.J. Burnett.
The trouble began immediately for Happ. After striking out leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, he gave up a single to Chris Denorfia and, after Kris Bryant reached on a throwing error by Aramis Ramirez, an RBI single to Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs added two runs in the top of third on doubles by Rizzo and Starlin Castro and a single by David Ross. Happ left the game with one out in the fifth after giving up another hard-hit double by Rizzo, walking Jorge Soler, and incrementing his pitch count to 99. He did manage to strike out six against two walks, but the Cubs turned several elevated, poorly located fastballs into eight hits, most of which were emphatic and unambiguous. Rizzo scored the fourth run that was charged to Happ when Castro doubled again off Jared Hughes, who had come in in relief.
Arrieta gave up a single to Andrew McCutchen in the fourth that was rendered harmless when Ramirez followed it with a double play. Trailing 5-0 after Hughes surrendered another run in the top of the sixth, the Pirates had a chance to get back in the game in the bottom of the seventh. Starling Marte led off with the first of his two hits, a single, and Arrieta then walked McCutchen. But Ramirez made the first out on an unfortunately placed liner right at Denorfia in left,
the slumping Jung-Ho Kang struck out, and Neil Walker bounced to first base, sending much of the large crowd in the direction of the exits. Marte would add a double in the ninth to end the night two for four, but other than that...Pffffftttt.
A few notable things did happen:
- McCutchen, Kang, and Cervelli collaborated on a beautiful defensive play in the second inning. With Addison Russell at first and two outs, Denorfia hit a ball in the gap to McCutchen's right. Cutch whirled on the ground, cut the ball off, and made a great throw to Kang, who then threw Russell out at home for the third out. It was great to see an outstanding play in center by the former gold glover.
- With Denorfia on second and Bryant on first and one out in the sixth, Rizzo hit a bloop into left field. Marte began lunging toward the ball, seemingly preparing for an encore of last Friday night; but then, at the last minute, he stopped short and allowed the ball to drop in front of him before immediately throwing to third to force Denorfia on a rare 7-5 fielder's choice. Marte's body language suggested that he did this deliberately, but I can't be sure. Whatever it was, it was nifty. Marte now leads the National League with 10 outfield assists. He's good, and we probably haven't seen his ceiling yet.
- The work in progress that is Arquimedes Caminero made apparent progress tonight in his 2.1 scoreless innings of relief. Yes, he gave up three hits, and yes, he walked one, but he also struck out six, making a major contribution to the 14 strikeouts that the Pirates amassed in an otherwise desultory evening on the mound.
"Clint Hurdle always says that the only thing you can do after a game like this is to shower well," said Tim Neverett in the radio wrap-up. "Tonight they're going to need the strong soap."
The Cubs have won six straight and now trail the Pirates by only three. Jeff Locke will go for the split tomorrow night.