Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: The Pirates held a lead into the middle innings until multiple relievers melted down, coughing up a pair of homers and five runs. As a consolation prize, there was some very unexpected good news, but more on that later.
Unlike the day before when Pittsburgh could only muster a single base runner in nine innings, the burst out of the gate in the first, starting when center fielder Ian Happ couldn’t find Austin Meadows deep fly which fell on the warning track for a double, followed immediately by a Starling Marte double and a Josh Bell single. They tacked on a third run off Jon Lester when Elias Diaz led off the second with his third homer of the year, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
The Cubs had loaded the bases in the first, but Kingham escaped without a score and had a three hit shutout through four innings. It was in the fifth when things started to unravel. With one out the pitcher Lester grounded a single into right and three pitches later Ben Zobrist launched a ball into the seats in right to cut the lead to 3-2.
The Pirates immediately bounced back when Meadows led off the bottom of the fifth with his fourth homer since his recall, and the third off a left-handed pitcher. But that was the last hurrah.
Kingham got the first two batters in the sixth, but Jason Heyward lined a double to right and then Lester came through again, lining a single to right to put the Cubs up 4-2. Tyler Glasnow was allowed to enter a game in a hold situation and K’d Kyle Schwarber to end the inning, but was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the frame.
Edgar Santana then relieved and started the seventh sixth a strikeout of Kris Bryant, but five batters later was suffering from shell shock. Anthony Rizzo homered to right at 101.5; Willson Contreras lined a single to center at 110.0; Ian Happ doubled to left at 101.3; Addison Russell just missed and flew out to center at 99.7; and Jason Hayward lined a single to right at 101.5.
Richard Rodriguez came in to get the final out...but even though he was not pinch-hit for Michael Feliz came on to pitch the eighth. The Cubs picked up right where they left off. Ben Zobrist lined a double to right at 102.2; Kyle Schwarber lined a homer off the right field foul pole ar107.3; and Kris Bryant lined out to center field at 101.4. Feliz was so rattled that he then walked Rizzo on four pitches and hit Contreras.
Then the surprise of all surprises. Felipe Vazquez (or was it Rivero?) came out for the ninth a day after his arm popped and was hanging limp as he grimaced on the dugout bench. He was supposed to take a day off as well all conjectured that Tommy John or some other major surgery would have him out of action until the middle of next year - and suddenyl he was throwing like the Rivero of old, pumping in five of eleven pitches at 100 or 101 - the five fastest pitches of his season.
The Pirates decided to make it interesting in the bottom of the ninth. Trailing 8-4, with one out pinch-hitter Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison singled to chase Brian Duensing and summon the Cubs’ closer Brandon Morrow to face the rookie phenom Meadows. Morrow cintinually pumped 99 mph fastball until Meadows fought off the ninth pitch for a soft liner up the middle that fell for a single to load the bases. Strling Marte ripped the second pitch he saw to left center to plate a pair and drawing the Pirates to within 8-6. But Morrow finally threw a curve that Josh Bell swung over for strike three and Corey Dickerson popped out to end the game.
Marte and Meadows each had three hits, with Meadows falling a triple short of the cycle and keeping his hitting stats at a robust 439/429/854.
The ninth loss in eleven games leaves the team with a 28-26 record in fourth place, six games behind the front-running Brewers.
The Pirates will try to salvage a win when the three games series concludes Wednesday night at PNC Park. Joe Musgrove will make his second start after debuting with seven shutout innings last Friday. He’ll be opposed by right-hander Kyle Hendricks (4-3, 3.16)