They say two out of three isn’t half bad.
That’s been the formula early on in the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the Bucs have made it a habit of taking two out of three from their opposition.
They had the opportunity to do so again on Thursday against the Chicago Cubs, and thanks to a huge five-run outburst in the seventh inning, the Pirates won their third straight series to start the season by defeating the Cubs 5-4 at Wrigley Field.
Travis Snider crushed a two-run pinch-hit homer in the inning and Pedro Alvarez added the big blow, blasting a three-run homer an estimated 430 feet to dead center to give the Pirates their first lead of the afternoon.
Cubs’ starter Travis Wood silenced the Pirates’ bats for six-plus innings, allowing only one run. Wood scattered only four hits and tied a career high with nine strikeouts, including fanning six consecutive Pirates hitters at one point.
Meanwhile the Cubs scratched out four runs against Pirates starter Gerrit Cole (2-0), who pitched much better than his line would indicate.
Cole struck out 10 through six innings and allowed only five ground-ball singles on the afternoon, but some seeing-eye singles eventually did the Pirates in.
The Cubs got on the board in the third inning without hitting a ball past the pitcher.
Pirates killer Emilio Bonifacio hit a dribbler in front of the mound that Cole misplayed. Bonifacio then stole second and came around to score when Pirates’ catcher Tony Sanchez uncorked a wild throw into center field.
The Cubs then added three more in the fourth on a collection of ground-ball singles.
Cubs’ catcher Welington Castillo singled to left and Castro attempted to score, but Pirates left fielder Starling Marte appeared to gun down Castro with ease. However Castro was called safe as home plate umpire Mark Carlson ruled that Sanchez was blocking the plate even though the Pirates catcher had the ball in plenty of time and Castro slid into the glove of Sanchez.
The Pirates’ only chance off Wood came in the third inning when the Bucs loaded the bases with one out, but Wood fanned both Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez to end the inning.
The Bucs did get on the board in the seventh inning. A Neil Walker double chased Wood and then pinch-hitter Snider greeted reliever Brian Schlitter by crushing a two-run homer, his second of the season, to center to cut the Pirates’ deficit to 4-2.
After a single by Marte and a walk to McCutchen, Cubs manager Rick Renteria summoned left-hander James Russell (0-1) to face Alvarez. However the strategy did not work as El Toro crushed the first pitch he saw for his fifth homer of the early season, and a 5-4 Pirates lead.
Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli loaded the bases in the ninth, but got Bonifacio to ground out to first to end the game, picking up his third save of the season.
The win marked the first time since 1992 that the Pirates have won their first three series’ of the season.
The Pirates will be back in action on Friday when they head to Milwaukee to start a three-game series against the Brewers. Francisco Liriano (0-1, 3.00 ERA) will get the ball for the Bucs and will be opposed by the Brewers’ Wily Peralta (0-0, 3.60).