Mark Melancon implodes as Pirates fall to Cubs 9-8
By Jake Misener
Cubs score three in ninth to top Pittsburgh
There was a time when an 8-6 lead in the ninth inning would be a sure-thing for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen, but that wasn’t the case on Tuesday night as the visiting Chicago Cubs roughed up Mark Melancon for a trio of runs in the top of the ninth, rallying to beat the Pirates, 9-8.
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Melancon, who has struggled with diminished velocity early-on this season, has now surrendered six runs in 6 1/3 innings of work as the Bucs’ closer. On Tuesday, he surrendered there runs on two walks and three base hits, as the heart of the Chicago order proved to be too much to handle for the right-hander.
Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo led things off with a single to center and outfielder Jorge Soler followed with a double before Kris Bryant drew a walk to load the bases with nobody out. Starlin Castro, who is batting a red-hot .352 this season, came through with the big hit, scoring both Rizzo and Soler on a high chopper that went over the head of Josh Harrison at third, tying the game 8-8.
After setting down Chris Coghlan on strikes, Welington Castillo hit a slow chopper to second, scoring Bryant and putting Chicago in front for good, 9-8. Cubs closer Hector Rondon pitched a scoreless ninth, retiring Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and pinch-hitter Chris Stewart 1-2-3 for his third save.
Pittsburgh (6-8) was roughed up all night-long by Cubs hitters, much the same as the Chicago staff was hit hard by the Bucs offense, as the teams combined for 17 runs on 21 hits. Prior to the rally late by Chicago, rookie Jung-ho Kang had broken a 5-5 tie with a three-run double for his first big league runs batted in.
However, Castillo hit his second homer of the season against Pirates’ southpaw Tony Watson in the eighth, pulling Chicago within two, 8-6, setting the stage for the rally in the ninth.
Chicago (8-5) took the early lead in the top of the first when Bryant laced an RBI double off left-hander Francisco Liriano, who did not factor into the decision, tossing five innings and allowed three runs on three hits, striking out nine.
Harrison pulled the Pirates back even in the bottom of the frame on a solo shot to center, and a solo blast by Starling Marte, his fifth on the year, in the bottom of the second gave the Bucs their first lead of the night, 2-1.
The two teams traded blows all night long, with Castro accounting for much of the Cubs’ offensive production, going 3-for-5 with 4 RBI in the win. Second baseman Addison Russell, who was promoted by Chicago prior to Tuesday’s game, went hitless, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.
For Pittsburgh, Kang, Marte and Francisco Cervelli led the offense with two hits apiece. The trio also accounted for all eight of the team’s runs batted in. All five Pirates’ pitchers – including Liriano and four relievers – allowed runs in their respective time on the mound.
What Stood Out:
For whatever reason, Mark Melancon continues to struggle. After leading the Shark Tank after the departure of former closer Jason Grilli last season, the right-hander has struggled consistently to start the season, leaving a major void in the back-end of the Pittsburgh bullpen.
For this team to make another postseason run, it’s going to take starting pitchers going deeper than five innings and relievers keeping opposing hitters off the board late. It sounds like a simple formula, but it’s largely avoided the Bucs to this point.
Pittsburgh (6-8) and Chicago (8-5) will continue their four-game set on Wednesday night at PNC Park as the Cubs look to pick up a series win behind right-hander Jason Hammel (1-1, 5.11). The veteran will be opposed by Pittsburgh righty Vance Worley (1-1, 5.84).
First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.