On Friday afternoon in Chicago, the Pirates got not just the good but the excellent Chris Archer. Problem was, the excellent Yu Darvish also showed up. After the game was handed to the bullpens, runs started to score in earnest, with the Cubs taking advantage of Kyle Crick’s wildness to push across an eighth inning run and take home a 4-3 victory in the opening game of the series.
Neither team could manage a base runners through three innings. 13 of the first 22 batters went down on strikes. It was suggested that Rob Manfred may have pulled some 2017 baseballs out of the storage cabinet.
In the end, Darvish didn’t allow a run in his six innings of work, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out eight.
Archer likewise had not allowed a run through six, but with his pitch at an unusually low 79, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle sent Archer back out for the seventh inning and the third time through the batting order, and everything fell apart.
Kris Bryant was first up in the inning and yanked a 2-2 inside hanging slider into the left field seats for his 18th home run and a 1-0 Cubs lead. After Anthony Rizzo lined a single to left and Victor Caratini worked an eight pitch walk, Archer was done for the day, with his line showing just three hits and two walks allowed while ten batters went down on strikes.
Another problem was, those two runners didn’t stay on base. Michael Feliz came on and gave up a single to Jason Heyward to load the bases and then Robel Garcia lifted a sacrifice fly to right to push the lead to 2-0. Albert Almora grounded a single up the middle to load the bases again but then pinch-hitter David Bote walked to force in the third run.
The situation appeared bleak for the Pirates in the eighth, facing Pedro Strop, but Jose Osuna collected yet another pinch hit with a double to the wall in center. Adam Frazier popped up for the second out, but Bryan Reynolds walked before Starling Marte launched a 2-0 pitch onto the street behind the left field stands, a three-run homer that tied the game at three.
With new life, Kyle Crick was summoned, but for the 14th time in his last 16 appearances Crick walked a batter. Then another. Two outs, only one more to strand the runners, but Heyward dropped a single into left and Kris Bryant slid into home just ahead of the throw from Bryan Reynolds. Crick has now walked 20 and struck out 24 in his last 15 1⁄3 innings, while allowing eight earned runs on the way to blowing four saves.
Craig Kimbrel, whom the Pirates battered in Pittsburgh last week, came in for the ninth and got three quick outs. Initially Kevin Newman had been rolled safe on a slow roller to third where Bryant’s throw appeared to pull Rizzo off the bag at first, but on appeal the game was over.
With the loss, the Pirates fall to 3 1⁄2 games behind the first place Cubs. Game two of the series will be at 2:20 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, as Jordan Lyles (5-5, 4.36) is scheduled to face the Cubs’ veteran left-hander Jon Lester (8-6, 3.72)