Albert Almora’s two out single to left off Richard Rodriguez in the bottom of the tenth gave the Cubs a 7-6 victory on Wednesday night, sealing a spot in the playoffs.
For a long time it looked like it would be an easy win for Chicago, after they’d dropped the first two games of the series. The Pirates’ starter Ivan Nova showed little, allowing a pair of runs in each of the first, third and fourth innings on a total of eight hits and two walks.
The Pirates jumped on the board in the first on Jose Osuna’s long homer to left, his third of the year, but the Cubs took the lead right back in the bottom half of the opening inning on Jason Heyward’s two-run blast to left-center.
After a clean second, Nova struggled mightily in each of the next two innings, even allowing a bases loaded walk, and when he was lifted after four innings the Pirates found themselves down 6-2.
It was white flag duty at that point at Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle turned to Tanner Anderson, who once again chipped in a pair of scoreless innings, and even Michael Feliz had managed an easy seventh.
Cubs starter Jose Quintana lasted five innings, surrendering two runs on a pair of solo homers - Osuna’s in the first and Cory Dickerson’s 13th of the year in the fifth. Jesse Chavez turned in two easy innings in the sixth and seventh before Joe Maddon unleashed the parade of relievers in the eighth.
That was when the Pirates refused to go down easily. Kevin Newman went down swinging against the tough Carl Edwards Jr., but when he walked both pinch-hitter Colin Moran and Adam Moran, Maddon’s quick hook brought Steve Cishek in to the game. Starling Marte flew out to right for the second out, but after a passed ball moved the runners to second and third Josh Bell ended up walking to load the bases on free passes and bring the tying run to the plate. Elias Diaz hit a soft liner just over the second baseman to drive in a pair but Javy Baez’s throw appeared to have Bell dead at third base before skipping away, allowing Diaz to take second. With the tying run then in scoring position, Dickerson was intentionally walked to load the bases. September phenom Pablo Reyes worked the count to 3-1, but after a foul ball grounded easily to third base to end the inning.
But there’s more! Former Buc Justin Wilson came on to close out the game in the ninth. Jordan Luplow opooped up for the first out but Kevin Newman grounded a single up the middle. Francisco Cervelli came on to pinch-hit and lifted a high foul close to the screen near the first base dugout, but a fan with a blue cap snatched the ball out of first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove and Cervelli lived to swing another day
and that he did, lining a double off the ivy in right-center field. With the tying runs again in scoring position, Adam Frazier popped up for the second out, but Marte lined a ball in and out of the glove of a leaping Rizzo, which landed in short right field as a game tying double.
The Wrigley crowd went silent and stayed that way as Kyle Crick had an easy bottom of the ninth, but things didn’t go nearly as well for Richard Rodriguez in the tenth as he walked the first batter he faced, Ian Happ, on four pitches. Mike Freeman sacrificed the speedy pinch-runner Terrance Gore to second, and Gore went to third when Victor Caratini bounced out to first. Rodriguez needed only one more out to give the Pirates another shot, but Almora laced a 1-1 pitch through the hole at short for the game winning hit.
With only four games left in the season, the series concludes at 8:05 pm Eastern on Thursday night, as Trevor Williams (14-9, 3.04) makes his final start, facing the fourth Cubs left-hander of the series, Jon Lester (17-6, 3.43)