Jeff Locke felt the vibes and tossed a 1-2-3 frame, using up just eight pitches. Josh Harrison opened against Chris Rusin with a HBP on a 1-2 slider. Then the Cubby got a couple of doses of good luck. Jordy Mercer lined out to center, and Cutch lasered a 3-2 pitch, but right to SS Starlin Castro, who doubled Josh off first. Castro dropped the ball, but the umps apparently missed it - Clint Hurdle didn't, as he came out to argue - but the twin killing stood, ruled incorrectly that the ball was dropped on the transfer rather than on the catch.
The Cubs went down without a peep in the second, with Locke picking up a pair of K. Justin Morneau kept the beat going, flying out deep to left by The Notch, followed by a pair of routine outs. Darnell McDonald started the third by drilling a ground rule double to LC, and moved to third on a groundout. Locke whiffed Rusin, but couldn't get Castro, who lined a tight 2-2 fastball into left to make it 1-0. Rusin tossed a clean frame, though four of the balls that found gloves so far were smoked, so there's at least that.
Anthony Rizzo fell behind 0-2 to start the fourth with a pair of inside strikes, then rolled over on an elevated mistake fastball away for a bounce out. After a K, Junior Lake got an infield single to the left side, then Welington Castillo walked on five pitches. Locke bore down and after a little battle with McDonald got a pop up, nicely run down by Morneau, who made an over-the-shoulder grab to end the frame.
With an out, Mercer got the first Buc hit with a grounder through the SS hole. Cutch got a 2-0 change and banged it off third base for a double, putting Pirates at second and third. Morneau hasn't been a Buc long , but knows the drill - with a runner on third, hit a grounder. He did, breaking his bat and bouncing back to Rusin, and Mercer, off on contact, was out in a run down, leaving Pirates on the corners.
Marlon Byrd came through, drilling a knock up the middle off Barney's mitt to tie the game. The good times rolled; Pedro drove a 1-2 hook into right for a single (the ball one-hopped the wall and came right back to the OF'er) to make it 2-1 and chasing Morneau to third. Martin got a good swing, but became the second Bucco to test The Notch tonight and lose.
Locke did his job perfectly, working a quick and clean fifth. Rusin also regained his bearings and tossed a calm frame. The Cubbies were retired in order in the sixth, helped by a Mercer web gem grab and toss in the hole. Pittsburgh went quietly, too; an insurance run or two wouldn't hurt with the bullpen not quite hitting on all cylinders lately.
Cutch made a great sliding catch on Lake's slicing, sinking liner to right center to open the seventh, followed by "MVP" chants. Locke went 3-0 on Castillo and 3-1 on McDonald, but got them both. He's retired 10 straight batters, and at 100 pitches is done. Jeff gave up a run on three hits, one walk and five K. More importantly, he threw strikes and only allowed one leadoff hitter to reach (and he scored). Locke in All-Star form would be a great boost during the stretch. Meanwhile, Rusin put up another zero; the Shark Tank is going to have to bare its teeth tonight.
Tony Watson took the bump in the eighth. Also, Felix Pie went to left, Clint Barmes to short and Mercer moved to second. Tony tossed ten pitches, and the Bucs were back to the bat rack.
Lefty James Russell toed the rubber, so Pie's stay was short as Gaby batted for him and drew an eight pitch walk. As logic dictated, Starling Marte came in to run for Gaby. John Buck batted for Watson; matchups are hard to come by in September for pitchers. But Russell was up to that task; he picked off Marte as he broke on a first move, 1-3-6. and got Buck on a pop up on the next pitch.
RHP Blake Parker took the ball to face Barmes; maybe those matchups aren't that hard to get. Barmes lined a curve to left after all that wheel-turning. And the Bucs got that insurance run when Mercer lined a fastball to right, scoring Barmes with a double. So two shortstops in the game for middle-infield defense end up igniting some two out lightning.
Cutch was being worked around with first base open, and after two balls was intentionally walked. Southpaw Zac Rosscup took the ball to face Morneau and lost him on four pitches to load the bases. Then righty Justin Grimm got the call to pitch to The Byrd. And he did his job, whiffing Marlon on three pitches. With all that noise in the eighth, it's still just a 3-1 game, so it's up to Mark the Shark. .
And hoo boy. He struck at Barney with a pitch in the dirt; Martin couldn't block it, and the Cubs had the leadoff man aboard. Rizzo followed with grass cutter that found its way into center to put Cubbies at first and second. Donnie Murphy, the Chicago clean-up hitter, tried to bunt them a station further (Thanx, Dale Sveum), but popped up and Martin gloved the ball for the first out. Lake skied one to straight center where Cutch gobbled it in. Melancon got ahead of Castillo 0-2 and with the fans were on their feet and roaring, retired him on a grounder to short.
Locke was back, at least for a night, the defense was air-tight, and the Buc attack was just strong enough to carry the day. That's how the club won 'em to open the campaign, and it looks like that's how they'll play them now.
Charlie Morton and Jake Arrieta do the honors tomorrow night.
- Tonight was the first time Jeff Locke has gone seven innings since July 8th vs Oakland. It's also his first win since July 21st at Cincinnati.
- PNC Park attendance: 23,541. But there were no wagon-jumpers; the crowd was into the game from the time the club took the field til they headed into the clubhouse after the game.
- Wandy Rodriguez threw five simulated innings using 67 pitches today. Starling Marte took some cuts against him, so he's slowly getting back into game shape, too.
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has found the one flawless candidate for the NL-MVP: Cutch.
- John Sickle of Minor League Ball examiness RHP Stolmy Pimentel, and kinda likes the package.
- Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors posts that the secret to Pittsburgh's success has been calculated risks.
- How bad are the Bucs on the contact play? With an unforced runner at third and less than two outs, the Pirates have been caught at home 19 times, and scored just 15 runs. Thanks, @DavidManel.
- The Pirates set an interleague record by winning nine straight road games against AL teams.