9/15 Pirates 3, Cubs 2
Francisco Liriano held the Cubs without a hit through six innings and Justin Morneau delivered a game-winning pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth to lift the Pirates to a 3-2 victory Sunday in front of 36,559 at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh remained tied for first with St. Louis in the NL Central heading into the final two weeks of regular season play. All four games between the Cubs and Pirates were decided by two runs or less, and the last three games were one-run decisions. Chicago now is 20-31 in one-run games.
Welington Castillo made it close Sunday when he smacked a two-run home run in the seventh off Liriano to tie the game at 2. But with one out in the Pirates eighth, Pedro Strop plunked Andrew McCutchen with a pitch, and he moved up on Marlon Byrd’s bloop single to center. McCutchen then tallied on Morneau’s single to left.
Liriano was tough. He threw 99 pitches through six innings, and Junior Lake connected on No. 100, recording an infield single to lead off the seventh for the first hit off the lefty. Castillo then launched pitch No. 102 into the left field seats for his seventh home run to tie the game. Darnell McDonald singled, and Liriano was lifted. It’s the first time in 24 starts that he did not get a decision.
“He’s not easy to hit,” Castillo said of Liriano. “He’s got good offspeed, and he throws it for strikes. He’s a guy you have to be aggressive against all the time because he can throw 96 and 88 [mph] and has a slider at 85, 87 [mph]. What makes him good is [all the pitches] look the same. His changeup looks like his fastball, his slider looks like his fastball. He’s been good his whole career. The approach we had to take was be aggressive and try to get him early.”
Wood took an aggressive approach, too, against the Pirates, who rank among the NL leaders in batting average against left-handed pitchers.
“They came out hacking,” Wood said. “They had a game plan and fortunately I was able to get out of [the first] giving up just one.”
Sticking to the Cubs’ coaches plan has been key for Wood this season, his first in which he’s been on a big league roster from Opening Day until the finish.
“For me, it goes back to last year when they wanted me to work both sides of the plate, arm side and glove side, and I really focused on arm side because I was predominantly glove side,” Wood said. “For me to take that into this year and make sure I can command both sides of the plate and prepare as best as I can, side sessions and everything, it’s been outstanding.”
It wasn’t hard for the Cubs staff to convince Wood to make the changes because he threw predominantly to one side of the plate.
“I knew at some point it was going to catch up to me,” Wood said.
Said Castillo: “That lineup is not easy to get through. They were jumping on him early. We had to make adjustments, and he did it.”
The Cubs head to Milwaukee with a 15-31 record since July 29. While the Pirates are prepping for the postseason, playing “We Are Family” at PNC Park, it’s wait until next year for Chicago.
“We’ve definitely made strides,” Wood said, complimenting Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer for getting players who want to be on the team. “I’m excited to finish out the season and see how we battle back next year being together for a full year.”
It may be tough for Cubs fans to accept that. Wood sees positives.
“We’ve strung together some good games,” Wood said. “I think we’ve had a season where we’ve made strides and we can hold our heads high.”
– Carrie Muskat