The Pirates are getting hot at the right time.
They stormed into Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon on a six-game winning streak and ace Gerrit Cole kept things rolling as he and the bullpen held the Cubs to just two runs in a 3-2 series-opening victory for the visiting Bucs.
Cole gave up just four hits and one run while striking out eight over seven innings of work. He helped his own cause with some offensive work in the top of the third inning.
Jordy Mercer set the table with a one-out, ground-rule double to left field. It was the first hit of the night for the Pirates against Chicago starter Jon Lester. Cole then hit a ground single to score Mercer and earned his second RBI of the season.
The Cubs would strike back in the fourth inning. Rookie of the Year candidate Kris Bryant led off the inning with a single to left. Anthony Rizzo then followed up with a pop fly that fell in behind second baseman Josh Harrison and advanced Rizzo to third.
Cole was able to strike out Chris Coghlan, bringing up Addison Russell. Cole got Russell to hit a ground ball to Mercer, who flipped it to Harrison for one out, but Russell beat the throw to first, and Bryant scored on the play.
In the seventh inning, Aramis Ramirez led off with his 30th double of the season. Ramirez, who suffered a groin injury during the Colorado series, gingerly trotted around the bases and was lifted in favor of pinch-runner Keon Broxton. Catcher Francisco Cervelli bunted Broxton over to third and then first baseman Michael Morse singled him home to re-gain the advantage.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Pirates scored an important insurance run thanks to a Cubs miscue. Pedro Strop, who had relieved Lester, struck out Mercer, but he was able to take first base on a wild pitch. Pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez singled to push Mercer to third, and he scored two batters later on Gregory Polanco’s RBI groundout.
Tony Watson walked Austin Jackson and gave up a single, but struck out Rizzo to pitch a scoreless bottom of the eighth and earn 41st hold of the season.
The Cubs got 90 feet away from tying the game in the ninth. Chris Denorfia hit a lead-off double down the right field line. Chicago followed with a Starlin Castro triple to nearly the same spot, which scored Denorfia and put the tying run at third base with only one out.
Pirates closer Mark Melancon beared down and struck out Jorge Soler and Javier Baez to finish his 51st save of the season.
Cole pushed his record to 18-8 on the season and has now pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career. The three Pirates pitchers combined to strike out 12 Cubs.
Lester took the loss, falling to 10-12, despite giving up just two runs and striking out six in seven innings.
With the Pirates win, the Cubs magic number to clinch a playoff berth remains at one. They can still clinch today, if the San Francisco Giants lose their interleague game across town against the Oakland A’s.
Tomorrow afternoon, the Pirates will send Francisco Liriano (11-7) to the hill to face right-hander Jason Hammel (9-6).
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