It was all smiles in the Pirates’ dugout following a nail-biting 5-4 win over the visiting first place Chicago Cubs, as a key replay reversal helped Felipe Vasquez close out the game.
For the third time in four outings this year the Pirates roughed up Cubs starter Jon Lester for four runs. Lester threw only 59 of 101 pitches for strikes over five innings, and fell behind 3-0 in the home half of the third. After Jordan Luplow and Starling Marte were quickly retired, Gregory Polanco lined a two out single in front of right fielder Jason Heyward. David Freese then drove a 3-1 pitch well over Heyward’s head, missing a homer by inches as it deflected of the railing at the top of the wall and back onto the field as Polanco raced home. Francisco Cervelli followed with his tenth homer of the year, a line drive hooked into the seats in the left field corner.
Unfortunately, Jameson Taillon surrendered the lead just as quickly. Ben Zobrist led off the top of the fourth doubling to right center on a pitch up in his eyes. Heyward looped a single to right to put runners on the corners, but Javy Baez smashed an 0-2 slider that hung right in the middle of the plate deep to left for his 22nd homerun, tying the game at three.
The Pirates looked to replay their previous inning while batting in the fifth. Lulpow and Marte were retired by Lester before he walked Polanco on a 3-2 pitch. Freese then lifted a high fly to right center field that fell on the warning track for a double as center fielder Albert Almora for some odd reason appeared to be playing Freese to pull, much to the consternation of Lester. With the Pirates then up 5-4, Cervelli ripped a single to left, but Ian Happ’s throw nailed Freese at home for the final out of the inning.
Baez continued his mastery of Taillon as he led off the sixth with a ground rule double, but after a grounder sent Baez to third with the potential tying run Happ lined out to a drawn in Josh Harrison and second and Willosn Contreras lined back to Taillon to end the inning.
With his pitch count still only at 81, Taillon went back out to start the seventh. Tommy La Stella led off with a looping single to right but was quickly erased when Addison Russell smacked the first pitch to short for a tailor made double play ball. Taillon’s day was done though when his 0-2 fastball at 96 mph glanced off Anthony Rizzo’s wrist for a hit batsman. Edgar Santana came on and walked Zobrist to put the lead run at first, but then caught Heyward looking at strike three.
Ex-Bucco Jesse Chavez got his old team 1-2-3 in the seventh, but another former Pirate Justin Wilson wasn’t so fortunate as Polanco took Wilson’s first pitch in the bottom of the eighth into the right field seats for his 19th homer.
All seemed safe as Felipe Vasquez was handed a two run lead in the ninth, but rookie pinch-hitter David Bote opened the frame with a grounder past Freese at third for a single. Addison Russell then fouled off a pair of pitches, working the count to 2-2 before lining the ball into right-center. Bote raced around to score and Russell’s head first slide into third appeared to beat the throw, putting the trying run only 90 feet away with no one out. But - in a monumental call, the replay official declared that Russell had come off the bag, leaving the bases empty with one out. Rizzo then fanned on a 2-2 ball in the dirt that he didn’t bother to run out and Zobrist bounced an easy grounder to Jose Osuna at first for the final out.
When asked after the game how the Pirates have managed to win 16 of their last 20 games, Cervelli answered simply, “We’re good.”
With their record now at 56-52, Pittsburgh gained a game, now 6.0 behind the first place Cubs and 3.0 out of the second Wild Card spot.
The short two games eries will end on Wednesday night at 7:05 pm Eastern, as the Cubs’ newly acquired Cole Hamels (5-9, 4.72) faces the Pirates’ rookie Nick Kingham (5-5, 4.80)
After another off-day on Thursday, the Pirates will welcome Chris Archer who is likely to be their starting pitcher against the Cardinals on Friday evening.