The Pirates have had some rough times over the last month or so, but Friday night’s game at PNC Park stands alone.
The Chicago Cubs blew off a week’s worth of frustration in a 12-2 win over the bumbling Pirates, who committed an incredible seven errors, their most in a game since 1985. Fifth-place Chicago, which ended a six-game losing streak, was just swept in a four-game series by Washington, getting outscored 31-9 in the process.
As satisfying as the evening was for the Cubs (52-86), it had to be at least just as vexing for the Pirates, who dropped to 2-2 during the ongoing six-game homstand against the bottom two clubs in the National League Central. After beating the Astros two out of three games, the Bucs hoped to continue to move up the NL wild card standings.
Instead they dropped at least two games behind St. Louis for the NL’s last playoff spot, with the Cardinals’ game against Milwaukee still pending due to rain. The Pirates (72-65) will attempt to put this embarrassing result behind them Saturday night at 7:05, when James McDonald opposes Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija.
A.J. Burnett got the start Friday and looked sharp, but he received little support from his defense. The de facto ace of the Pirates’ staff got 10 groundball outs and struck out four Cubs in his five innings; however, he departed with seven runs credited against him (only three were earned).
Rookies Brock Holt and Starling Marte, just back from the disabled list, committed two errors apiece and shortstop Josh Harrison added one. Veterans got in the shaky act, too, with Rod Barajas and Gaby Sanchez each adding a misplay in the Cubs’ three-run sixth that but the game out of reach.
Overshadowed in all the shoddy defense was Chicago lefty Travis Wood, who allowed just one hit, Pedro Alvarez’ double, in six scoreless innings. Andrew McCutchen hit the ball to the outfield wall twice but was denied of extra bases both times, including a stunning catch by centerfielder Brett Jackson before he crashed violently into the fence in left-center. Jackson left the game but was able to walk off the field under his own power after a few moments prone on the warning track.
The Cubs’ offensive heroes were Soriano and young Starlin Castro, who ripped three hits apiece and combined for seven RBI. Luis Valbuena drove in a pair in the sixth, while Soriano and Castro added two-run hits in Chicago’s five-run seventh that brought out the fans’ ire at PNC Park.
The Pirates broke through for their only runs in the eighth, when Michael McKenry doubled in Harrison and Marte lifted a sacrifice fly to right.
There was a sense the night wouldn’t go well for the home team right from the start. The Cubs scored the game’s first run without hitting the ball in the air off Burnett, as a walk and Holt’s first error preceded Soriano’s grounder that Harrison could only get a piece of before it skidded into shallow center.
Chicago piled on three more in the third when back-to-back singles by Anthony Rizzo and Soriano, plus a wild throw to third from leftfielder Marte, put runners at second and third with two outs. Castro banged a single through the left side to score both, and Marte’s bobble pushed Castro to second. Steve Clevenger lined a hit to center to make it 4-0.
It unraveled further in the sixth. With Burnett still battling on the mound and Jackson at second with none out, the Pirates appeared to turn a fielder’s choice into a 6-5 putout at third base on a ground ball by Darwin Barney. Third base umpire Gary Darling disagreed, calling Barney safe on a tag by Alvarez. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was ejected for arguing the extremely close play.
Wood followed with a bunt, but Barajas threw wide to second and the bases were loaded. Burnett then induced David DeJesus to bounce to first, but Sanchez’ errant strike to the plate forced Barajas to awkwardly lunge and miss the ball. Justin Wilson relieved Burnett and promptly surrendered Valbuena’s two-run double to right-center.
Holt’s second error and Harrison’s misplay of a short-hop smash set up the Cubs for their five-run seventh against Chris Leroux and Hisanori Takahashi, the second time in as many innings that the visitors sent nine men to the plate.
Kyle McPherson helped end the game on a positive note with two scoreless innings out of the bullpen, closing one of the longest nights at the ballpark this season for the Bucs. Only a generous scoring decision in Garrett Jones’ favor in the seventh prevented the Pirates from matching their all-time record of eight errors in a game.
As it was, they had to settle for being the first major-league team since Atlanta in 2004 to put at a ’7′ in the ‘E’ column.
“It was our worst game of the season,” Hurdle said afterward. “We stunk.”
The 32,669 in the stands for the three-and-a-half-hour slog probably agree unanimously.