Pirates second basemen Neil Walker was at the plate with pinch runner Starlin Marte at first with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Closer Kevin Gregg was looking for his 32nd save in 37 chances. Walker drilled a ball to deep center. Center-fielder Ryan Sweeney jogged backwards to the track to catch the ball as his back touched the wall.
In a game that featured five home runs by both teams, this seemed like a very fitting ending. The Cubs’ bullpen, which has been a weak spot all year, locked down for a solid four innings of three hits, one walk, and no runs allowed.
Chicago was able to jump on Pittsburgh in the top of the second inning when right-fielder Nate Schierholtz led the inning off with a walk, followed by Sweeney bunting him over. Left-fielder Brian Bogusevic came up with a floating line drive that fell just underneath a diving Jose Tabata in left field for the Pirates.
Second basemen Darwin Barney, an offensive under-performer all year, hit a ground ball to shortstop for what looked like a double play, but beat out the throw at first while Schierholtz scored from third to make it 1-0 Cubs.
The Cubbies added more cushion to their lead in the top of the fourth when catcher Dioner Navarro drilled a line drive off of the scoreboard in right field for a lead-off single. Schierholtz struck out and Sweeney flew out to center-fielder Andrew McCutchen. Bogusevic jumped on the very first pitch he got from right-hander Charlie Morton, a sinker that was high and inside for a two-run home run to the bushes in dead center to put the Cubs on top 3-0.
Starter Jake Arrieta had flirts with trouble, but got out of them early while he struck out four using 47 pitches. But Pittsburgh, in a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central, came back in a hurry. The trouble started when first basemen Justin Morneau pushed Arrieta to a 12 pitch at-bat but was put away by a ground ball.
Pittsburgh proceeded to go back-to-back-to-back and awaken their fans that had quieted down. Third basemen Pedro Alvarez drilled a ball to deep right-center that bounced behind a leaping Sweeney at the wall. Alvarez was running the whole time so ended up with an inside the park home run to cut the deficit to 3-1.
The first pitch that catcher Russell Martin saw he smoked to deep left field to cut the lead to 3-2. Right-fielder Garrett Jones took a breaking ball that was away and belt-high to deep center to tie the game at three all. Arrieta was finally able to calm down and get shortstop Clint Barmes to strikeout on a 3-2 count.
The teams both went scoreless in the fifth frame and Arrieta went back out to pitch the sixth inning. McCutchen hit an 0-2 pitch for a deep double that bounced off the center-field wall. Arrieta was lifted for Brooks Raley, who got a quick pop-out by Morneau. Alvarez came up and hit a weak grounder to first basemen Anthony Rizzo who threw it underhand to Raley covering first. The pitcher never fully caught it, allowing Alvarez to be safe and McCutchen to score the go-ahead run to make it 4-3 Pirates.
Raley got Martin out and then was relieved for Carlos Villanueva, who proceeded to give up a two-out infield hit to pinch-hitter Marlon Byrd. Shortstop Travis Snider came up as another pinch-hitter but ended the inning on a line-out to Sweeney in center.
All-Star closer Jason Grilli came out of the bullpen to pitch the top of the seventh. This was his fourth appearance since coming off of the Disabled List with an arm injury. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has been working the right-hander back up to pitching the ninth inning slowly as he returns back to his early season form.
Grilli started out with back-to-back strikeouts of Junior Lake and Starlin Castro. Third basemen Luis Valbuena worked him to a full count before earning his second free pass on the night. Rizzo came up to the plate, having gone 0 for 3 so far in the game and 1 for 21 as of late. On a 1-0 pitch that was low and in, Rizzo drilled the ball just inside the right-field foul pole and out of PNC Park for the go-ahead runs to put Chicago up 5-4.
Relievers Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop held down the seventh and eighth innings respectively until Gregg came on for the close.
Chicago’s offense was led by Bogusevic who went a perfect 3 for 3 on the day with two singles, a home run, and two RBIs. Rizzo ended 2 for 3 with the home run and 2 RBIs. Navarro finished with two singles, a run scored, and a strikeout.
Villanueva takes the win for the Cubs while Grilli settles for the loss for Pittsburgh. McCutchen continued his 2013 success against the Cubs by going 2 for 4 with one run scored. Alvarez was the only other Pirate with two hits and also had a run scored along with an RBI.
These two teams face off for the third of the four game set tomorrow at PNC Park. First-pitch is set for 6:05 pm CST.