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PIT@CHC: Alvarez plates a pair with a soft single

CHICAGO -- Neil Walker was running all the way -- just as manager Clint Hurdle would have wanted him to.

Walker's sprint from second to home on Pedro Alvarez's infield hit capped a two-run ninth for the Pirates, who stunned the Cubs with some unconventional strategies to steal a 5-4 victory in the finale of a three-game series at Wrigley Field on Sunday. The inning was advanced by cleanup hitter Lyle Overbay, who bunted with runners on first and second base.

"There's going to be a lot of things that happen with this ballclub that I don't think are going to be traditional this year," said Hurdle, who has emphasized aggressive baserunning for weeks. "We're going to play to win. That's why those guys work on that all spring."

But asking the cleanup hitter lay down a bunt? And attempting to score two runs on a squibber that never made it to the infield dirt?

Sure, and without hesitation, actually.

In fact, the absence of hesitation was key in the Pirates' comeback against Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, who struck out the side on Saturday. Had there been any hint of indecision on Walker's part, he almost certainly would not have given the club the lead.

Much had to go right before Walker even had the chance to score, though. Down 4-3, Garrett Jones started the ninth with a single. Walker followed with a walk. The two then advanced 90 feet on Overbay's perfectly executed bunt.

The sign to bunt had been called from the dugout, and Overbay was hardly caught off guard. He, just like everyone in camp, had practiced dozens of sacrifices all spring.

"I was really seriously thinking about doing it anyway," said Overbay, who had two previous sacrifice bunts in his 3,900 at-bats. "That's trusting the guy behind you and Pedro [Alvarez] had had some good at-bats today."

Hurdle liked his chances with Alvarez, too.

Alvarez had already singled twice, both times off Cubs starter Matt Garza, driving in a run with the second hit. He didn't swing at Marmol's first two pitches but offered at the third, a slider down and away. The pitch caught little of Alvarez's bat, but enough to trickle slowly past the mound.

"It's a single in the books, right?" Alvarez joked.

It was, allowing Jones to easily score the tying run. And Walker just kept running.

"My goal was to be at home," Walker said. "I knew [shortstop Starlin Castro] had a tough play. He comes up and picks it up clean and makes the throw to first, [first baseman Carlos Pena] still has got to make a really good throw to home to get me. Good piece of hitting by Pedro just to put the ball in play."

Castro barehanded the ball and made an ill-advised throw to first. Alvarez was already on the base safely, and Castro's throw pulled Pena off the bag. Pena spun and threw home but not in time to get Walker.

"It goes back to the aggressive baserunning," Hurdle said. "Neil plays the game that way when he is on the bases. Once he saw the play develop from second base, he knew there was a very good shot that he might be able to pull something off. And he did. He's a ballplayer."

Had Castro not thrown to first, Walker likely would have been tagged out somewhere between third and home. Though that was a discussion left only for the Cubs to have afterward.

"That's something probably that you'd want to play safety first," Cubs manager Mike Quade said of Castro's decision to throw. "That's also something where you get wrapped up in a competitive moment and you're trying to bail the club out -- you make a play and, heck, Carlos did a heck of a job fielding it and [darn] near threw the guy out at home. It seemed like one of those days where there was a lot of stuff [going on]."

The Pirates hadn't sealed anything yet, though, as Chicago, which had already erased leads twice, stirred a rally of its own in the bottom half of the frame. Closer Joel Hanrahan allowed a one-out hit to Castro and shortstop Ronny Cedeno missed getting the second out of the frame when he fielded a grounder and threw the ball into right field.

With runners on the corners, Hanrahan delivered a 98-mph fastball to Marlon Byrd, who sent it back in Cedeno's direction.

"I wanted [Cedeno] to get another," Hanrahan said.

Given the second chance, Cedeno started a game-ending double play to strand the potential tying run at third.

"It's always a tough game with these guys," Alvarez said. "They throw one punch. We throw another one. And it's always back and forth. We knew we'd have to play our best baseball for nine and not give up."

Though much of the excitement was crammed into the final inning, the Pirates had runners swarming the bases all day. The club entered the ninth with 14 hits (all singles), but just three runs to show for it. Twelve of those hits came against Garza, who struck out 12 batters.

Pittsburgh ended up with 16 singles, marking the first time since June 22, 1920, that the Pirates had at least 16 hits, all singles.

The offense's late-inning life kept Ross Ohlendorf from shouldering a loss in an outing that wasn't all that bad for the right-hander. Given Ohlendorf's rough spring results, Hurdle even joked: "That was the best I've ever seen him throw."

He had little trouble through three innings, and though he gave up two runs in the fourth, Ohlendorf worked out of a jam -- two runners in scoring position and no outs -- to keep the game even at 2.

Ohlendorf gave up the lead by allowing runs in the fifth and sixth, but he exited the six-inning effort pleased with his progress, which included a focus on a recent delivery adjustment.

"I feel like the things we worked on at the end of Spring Training, we were able to implement well," Ohlendorf said. "I thought it was definitely a step in the right direction. It was a great win for us." Comments