Starlin Castro homered to cap a five-run third inning and the Cubs began one of the longest homestands of the season with a 6-3 win over the Pirates in front of a festive Friday afternoon crowd on a beautiful summer afternoon (and yes, I know the summer solstice, officially beginning astronomical summer, isn't until Saturday morning).
Coghlan began his good day with a first-inning triple. He appeared to score when Anthony Rizzo swung and missed at strike three and the ball got away from Pirates catcher Russell Martin. But Bucs manager Clint Hurdle challenged, and the ruling from the review crew was that the ball had hit Rizzo, thus he had struck out and the ball was dead and Coghlan had to go back to third base.
Another unusual challenge was issued by Hurdle -- who got a second challenge because his first one was successful -- in the top of the second. On a rundown play, Starlin Castro threw Ike Davis out at the plate. Hurdle claimed John Baker had violated the new plate-blocking rules, but this time, the reviewers let the play stand. It ended the inning.
So the score went 0-0 through two innings, when it could have been 1-1 -- at least. Had both the runs challenged been scored under last year's rules, the innings would have continued and perhaps both teams would have scored more runs. Or not, this is pretty much an academic exercise.
The Cubs broke through with their five-run third when Jackson had a one-out single, just his third hit in 27 at-bats this year. That led to five straight Cubs reaching base, capped by Castro's home run. Coghlan drawing a walk to load the bases was key as well; Anthony Rizzo followed that with a run-scoring double.
That was a really nice inning, the Cubs taking advantage of a rare hit by a pitcher. Well done.
Jackson managed to make it through four innings without trouble, but then got himself into his usual mess by walking the first two hitters in the fifth on eight straight pitchers. That brought a visit from Chris Bosio. Every time I see Bosio walking out to the mound, his body language seems to be saying, "Can't you guys stop this? My hip still hurts!"
Anyway, Jackson finally threw strikes to Jordy Mercer. Too many strikes, unfortunately; Mercer slammed a three-run homer to make the game close. Rick Renteria decided he'd had enough of Jackson after five innings and 86 pitches, and he let the Cubs bullpen take over. The pen has been very good, and even though Brian Schlitter, Wesley Wright, Neil Ramirez and Pedro Strop combined for three innings allowing four baserunners (two hits and two walks), they never seemed to be in real trouble. Part of that was the pen's good work on Andrew McCutchen, who just destroyed the Cubs on the last trip to Pittsburgh. Schlitter got him to ground out, and Ramirez struck him out. Combined with two outs recorded on him by Jackson, McCutchen went 0-for-4 Friday afternoon. That ended a four-game streak against the Cubs in which McCutchen was 8-for-14 with four doubles, three home runs and nine RBI.
Looks like someone finally got the message, "Don't throw anything good to McCutchen!"
Nice work all around by the Cubs today. The complaint department is definitely closed. Castro's homer, his 11th of the year, puts him within three of his career high (set in 2012) with more than half the season remaining.