The Pittsburgh Pirates took advantage of the opportunity to play spoiler on Tuesday night
Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed the Chicago Cubs to PNC Park to kick off their final home stand of the 2019 season. Entering the series the Pirates had lost nine games in a row and the Cubs had lost seven in a row. In fact, the Cubs’ last victory came when they finished off a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Wrigley Field on September 15th.
While the Pirates have nothing to play for in the season’s final week, they can play spoiler for the Cubs. On Tuesday night, they did just this. Following a 9-2 victory over the Cubs the Pirates have knocked the Cubs magic number for playoff elimination to one. Suck it, Maddon!
Mitch Keller started for the Pirates and turned in a strong start. Keller found himself in trouble in the 1st inning when the Cubs loaded the bases with two outs, but Keller struck out Ian Happ to clean up the mess. With runners on second and third and just one out in the 5th inning, Keller struck out Willson Contreras and got Happ to fly out to left field to end the inning.
In 5 innings of work Keller held the Cubs to just 1 run on seven hits, two walks, seven strikeouts, and no home runs allowed. If this was Keller’s final start of the season he finished on a high note. 11 starts into his MLB career Keller owns a 7.13 ERA. However, his 3.20 ERA, 28.6% strikeout rate, and 7.0% walk rate all indicate that Keller pitched better than his results. A big reason his ERA is so high is due to an unsustainable high .475 batting average on balls in play. There is plenty of reason for confidence with Keller entering 2020.
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Kyle Hendricks started for the Cubs and for most of the night was masterful. Hendricks had a no hitter going until Kevin Newman singled with one out in the 6th inning. After retiring Bryan Reynolds, Hendricks picked off Newman to end the inning.
Then in the 7th inning, the wheels came off the cart for Hendricks.
Adam Frazier doubled to start the inning, Jose Osuna reached on an infield hit, Colin Moran singled, and the game was tied at 1. Jacob Stallings then followed with a base hit to load the bases with no one out. Kevin Kramer then joined the party by ripping a 2-run double into the right field corner to give the Pirates a 3-1 lead.
Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist would commit an error on a play hit by Erik Gonzalez. This error led to 2 more Pirate runs scoring, making it 5-1 Bucs. Zobrist’s error also ended Hendricks’ night, as well as his stretch of eight consecutive starts against the Pirates allowing 2 earned runs or less.
With runners on the corners and one out, Reynolds hit a ball back to the mound. Chicago pitcher Danny Hultzen threw what looked like a double play ball into the outfield allowing Gonzalez to score. Frazier then lined his second hit of the inning into center field, making the score 7-1 Pirates.
43 minutes after it started, the bottom of the 7th inning came to an end. But not before the Pirates scored a season high tying 7 runs in the inning, to give the team a 7-1 lead to work with as Richard Rodriguez took the mound.
Rodriguez allowed a run in the 8th inning. However, he also struck out the side to keep the Pirate lead safe at 7-2. This lead then grew to 9-2 when the light hitting Erik Gonzalez launched a 2-run home run in the bottom of the 8th inning. This was Gonzalez’s first home run as a Pirate, and 6th of his MLB career.
Keone Kela was then summoned to pitch the 9th inning for the Pirates. Kela issued a two-out walk, but retired the other three batters he faced to slam the door shut on a 9-2 Pirate victory.
The Pirates may have nothing to play for this week, but playing spoiler can still be fun. Especially against a team that the Pirates have had as much bad blood with the past five years as they have Joe Maddon and those no good dirty rotten Chicago Cubs.
The second game of this series is scheduled for 7:05 on Wednesday night. Dario Agrazal (5.08 ERA, 6.06 FIP) will make his 14th and final start of the season for the Pirates while the Cubs will counter with veteran lefty Jon Lester (4.51 ERA, 4.35 FIP). With a win, the Pirates will eliminate the Cubs from postseason contention.