Scott Fennessy: Pirates beat Cubs, move into first place

332px-IMG_6787_Neil_WalkerThe Cubs and Pirates meet again as the Pirates look to continue their winning ways after yesterday’s solid victory. Tonight’s game sees Jay Happ against Kyle Hendricks. The Pirates jump on young Kyle instantly. Gregory Polanco, who has feasted on Chicago pitching so far this year gets a single and scores on Andrew McCutchen’s RBI double via the hit and run. McCutchen has really punished pitching so far and could be an MVP candidate at this pace.

Hendricks gets the next two hitters and the inning is over. Happ gets a perfect first inning and neither team can get much going. The Cubs had a couple of rallies in the second and third that came up short and while Pittsburgh was able to pile up a pitch count on Hendricks, were not able to do anything else until the fifth inning.

Oddly enough, it’s the light hitting pitcher Jay Happ who gets things started. Hitting a weak grounder that somehow gets between Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. One out later he is on second base when Polanco strikes again with a single up the middle and Happ scores and Polanco holds as the ball is cut by Castro. Polanco steals second base as Miguel Montero’s throw was a bit high, but Hendricks gets the next two hitters to end the rally.

Happ finally gets a bit of a hot streak as he strikes out the side in the bottom of the fifth inning, giving him four in a row. The Pirates finally take control in the top of the sixth inning. Neil Walker, who has quietly become a bit of a catalyst for the team and on first with a single when a frustrated Kyle Hendricks gives in to Pedro Alvarez who crushes a towering two run homer into the family section of the left field seats for a two run jack. Hendricks gets out of the inning, but the Pirates now have a commanding 4-0 lead at the half way point.

The Cubs look like they are going to make a game of this in the bottom half when the now resurging Dexter Fowler hits a single to right with one out and moved to second with two down. Rizzo, who has been scuffling pretty badly of late gets his second hit of the night and Fowler gives the Cubs their first run of the game. Kris Bryant walks, but is stranded and the rally dies quickly. The Cubs do keep it a bit closer though, trailing 4-1 as we head to the seventh inning.

Jason Motte comes in and does not fare well at first. McCutchen gets his second double of the game and scores on Walker’s two out single. The inning ends with the Pirates on top by four runs now 5-1.

The visitors keep the pressure mounting as the bottom of the order gets a series of singles and Jody Mercer scores on Sterling Marte’s single and the lead is now 6-1 as the inning finally ends.

The Cubs give the offense another go in the bottom of the eighth inning with one out. Fowler rips a triple into the power alley in right, and the surprisingly dependable Starlin Castro singles sharply to center field for an RBI. Rizzo walks, but Bryant whiffs to stop the rally and the Cubs are now down by four. Tommy Hunter is summoned to make his first appearance of the year, and while he struggled a bit kept the Pirates off the board for the first time in five innings and they make their last chance to come back.

Happ has been a bit wild late in the game, but the manager wants to see if he can close this one out. Miguel Montero gets a leadoff walk and was on second with two outs when Addison Russell puts a charge into a 2-2 slider and this one is gone! Into the shrubbery (how dare you say that to a woman!) for a two run homer. The manager instantly pops out of the dugout and brings in Mark Melancon, who had been warming up after Montero’s walk and he strikes out pinch hitter Javier Baez to end the game and pick up a cheap save.

For the Pirates it was all good news at the plate. Walker’s return seems to have energized the lineup and four hitters had two hits each. For Happ who gets the win it was a bit of a struggle, walking four and allowing 6 scattered hits, including Russell’s blast, but he gave the bullpen a rest and the Pirates move into first place by percentage points over the Dodgers, who have not played today.

For the Cubs, another disappointing night for the bullpen, Motte looked terrible again, and while Hunter did not get scored on, he was saved by a crucial double play. But Fowler seems locked in, and if Rizzo and Bryant can get more consistent with their hitting they could really go on a tear.

Around the horn:

Mark Trumbo of the Mariners went 4-5 with a two run homer as Seattle gets a rare win over the Rangers, 7-5.

Pitching has been a bit dominant of late. Although the Tigers lost another game late, starter Anibal Sanchez ties the record for longest no hit bid by a D pitcher at 4.1 innings. He had a perfect game broken up by Torii Hunter’s single. Torii is limping into retirement at a .216 clip.

The Angels needed every bit of Garrett Richard’s terrific evening. Richard took a no hitter into the 6th inning and allowed just two hits overall as the Angels beat the A’s 2-0. Both hits were by Steve Vogt, who has been on fire after being injured on opening day. He is hitting .353 with a pair of homers since his return.

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