Cubs' pitching doesn't follow bats' lead
Zambrano allows go-ahead runs in eighth on Jones' homer
CHICAGO -- The weather was warmer at Wrigley Field on Friday -- and so were the bats -- but the Pirates' wood was just a little hotter.
Garrett Jones hit a three-run homer in the top of the eighth off Cubs reliever Carlos Zambrano, leading the Pirates to a 10-6 win before 39,082 at Wrigley Field. Jones had five hits and five RBIs in the game, career highs in both categories. The three-spot Pittsburgh posted in the inning off Zambrano resulted in a not-too-subtle round of boos from the home crowd.
The Cubs entered the contest having scored more than four runs just once in their past nine outings, dropping seven of those contests. Meanwhile, the Pirates had lost five of six while scoring a total of 10 runs over that span. With the air mild and a moderate wind blowing out to right field on Friday, the offensive doldrums relented for both teams. However, for the Cubs, the end result was the same as it's usually been over the past couple of weeks -- a loss.
"We scored a few runs, [reliever John] Grabow threw the ball better and [Aramis] Ramirez swung the bat better," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. "The rest of it wasn't all that good."
The heart of the Pirates' order pounded Cubs pitching on Friday. Andrew McCutchen and Jones combined to go 10-for-11 with one walk, seven RBIs and seven runs scored. McCutchen, who also posted the first five-hit game of his career, homered and stole two bases. McCutchen leads the National League with 12 thefts for the season.
"McCutchen's an excellent young player," said Piniella. "And Jones can sting the ball."
The last time Cubs pitchers gave up five hits to two players in the same game was Oct. 1, 1960, against the Dodgers. Maury Wills and Bob Lillis each had five hits in that game, but the Cubs won, 10-8, in 14 innings. That game also was special for Cubs legend Billy Williams, who hit his first big league home run off the Dodgers' Stan Williams.
Still, the game was in doubt entering the late innings. After Grabow struck out the side in the seventh, the Cubs were in position to win if Zambrano could halt the Jones/McCutchen onslaught and the offense could tack on one more tally. However, Zambrano couldn't hold the Pirates down, and the Cubs' hitters went scoreless during the final five frames of the contest.
Zambrano's trouble started when he hit Andy LaRoche with a pitch to lead off the eighth. The pitch was easily two feet inside. That brought up McCutchen, who laced a single to right, moving LaRoche to second and bringing up Jones.
At first, it looked like the Cubs got a reprieve after Jones pounded a fly ball into the right-field corner that apparently hit the tiny space between the foul pole and the wall. Jones protested the call briefly, as did Pirates manager John Russell. Jones returned to the dish and, two pitches later, lofted a fly ball into the right-center-field bleachers.
"They, obviously, were seeing the ball good," said Zambrano. "I made some good pitches to McCutchen and the last one was a little up and he went the other way. Good hitter. The other guy, Jones, it was a 3-2 count. He was expecting a fastball, and I tried to throw a fastball away and it stayed in the middle. They both are good hitters. Next time, I will try to be more careful with them."
Zambrano then allowed a double to Ryan Doumit and a single to Lastings Milledge, drawing more boos. However, he managed to escape the inning with no more runs coming home. The Pirates tacked on their last run in the ninth, when McCutchen, of course, homered off Cubs lefty James Russell.
"I don't have an answer for that," Piniella said, when asked what he thought was wrong with Zambrano. "You'd have to ask him or the pitching coach, [Larry Rothschild].
"He's giving effort. I'm not complaining about that whatsoever. Not even thinking [otherwise]."
Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny was wild from the start and the Pirates took full advantage. LaRoche started a first-inning rally with a one-out double and scored on McCutchen's single. Jones singled, moving McCutchen to second. Gorzelanny then walked Doumit and Milledge, plating Jones. Steve Pearce capped the inning with a sacrifice fly to left field.
"I didn't have my best stuff," said Gorzelanny. "I tried to fight through it and it just didn't work out."
Gorzelanny (1-4) entered the game with a 2.83 ERA -- his poor record more a reflection of bad luck than bad pitching. On Friday, ironically enough, he ended up with a no-decision on the day his teammates finally scored some runs behind him. In Gorzelanny's lone win, the Cubs scored 10 runs. However, in his five other previous starts, they scored a combined nine runs.
"We're trying to figure how to score more runs than the other team, any way possible," said Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd. "We're just not doing that. We have to come out and win tomorrow and try to win the series."
Fortunately for the denizens of the Friendly Confines, Pirates starter Brian Burres was also slow out of the gate. Byrd doubled off the left-center-field wall with one out and went to third on Derrek Lee's single to left. Xavier Nady drove in Byrd with a sacrifice fly.
Slumping slugger Ramirez then hammered a Burres pitch into the left-field corner for a double. The Pirates temporarily caught a break on the play as Ramirez's drive got buried in the thick ivy covering the left-field wall. However, Alfonso Soriano made that moot with a two-run double on a blooper to right. Jones, the Pirates' right fielder, made a play on the ball, but it landed in front of him and rolled about 10 feet behind him, allowing Lee and Ramirez to score. Soriano's double put the Cubs up, 4-3, at the end of one inning.
Ramirez, who started the day hitting .153, later singled in the game, giving him his first multihit game since Opening Day.
"I felt pretty good today," Ramirez said. "I hit the ball the other way and pulled the ball hard. That's a good sign."
Byrd homered for the Cubs' final run in the fifth, which gave Chicago a 6-4 lead at the time. Byrd, who is tied for third in the NL with a .345 batting average, had two hits on the day, including the homer, his seventh.
Despite his rough outing, Gorzelanny was actually in line for a win after departing with five innings in the bank and the Cubs up, 6-5. However, it wasn't a day when one-run leads were safe. Not surprisingly, it was McCutchen and Jones who erased the advantage Gorzelanny departed with. McCutchen drew a one-out walk off Chicago reliever Esmailin Caridad in the sixth and then stole second. He scored one batter later on Jones' double.
"They played well today," Gorzelanny said of McCutchen and Jones. "It's good for them that they were able to do that. I felt like a lot of the hits that I gave up could have gone our way, as well."
The Cubs have now lost three of four to start a homestand that the club hoped would help right its flagging ship. The Cubs still have two games against the Pirates and two more against the Rockies before heading back out on the road. However, to get some momentum going at Wrigley, they'll have to beat a Bucs club that has now beaten the Cubs in all four meetings between the teams this season.
"We have to figure out how to put a foot on [opponents'] necks and finish them off," said Byrd. "We're just not doing that."
Bradford Dolittle is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.