By Paul Ladewski
CHICAGO – Their kind of town, Chicago isn’t.
But if ever there was a time for the Pirates for warm up to the Windy City, then the series opener against the Cubs on Monday night appeared to be it.
The Cubs returned from a winless road trip in which they scored a total of five runs in six games. And they were without first baseman Derrek Lee (flu), pitcher Carlos Marmol (maternity leave), third baseman Aramis Ramirez (dislocated shoulder) and infielder Bobby Scales (flu) because of various health reasons.
So even though the Pirates didn’t display their A game in a wacky 10-8 victory at Wrigley Field, they weren’t about to throw it back into Lake Michigan, either. It was only their fifth win against the Cubs in their last 22 games.
Freddy Sanchez led an 18-hit assault with four singles, one double and one home run to become the first Pirate to have as many as six hits since Wally Backman in the 1990 season. He raised his batting average from .297 to .320 in the process.
“I don’t know if I ever had a 5-for-5 game ,” said Sanchez, who also stole a base and made a pair of Gold Glove plays in the field. “I might have in college or somewhere like that but not in pro ball. It makes it more special that we got the win. It wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t pulled out the win tonight.”
Then again, Pirates second basemen have a history of this sort of thing here. In September, 1975, Rennie Stennett totaled seven hits in as many at-bats, a major-league record for a nine-inning game.
The victory may have come at a price, as closer Matt Capps was struck on his right elbow by a line drive off the bat of Geovany Soto in the ninth inning.
In obvious pain, Capps headed to the clubhouse immediately before he was taken to a hospital to be examined.
The offensive binge was needed, because starter Paul Maholm didn’t have it from a 34-pitch first inning. He was unable to protect 1-0, 3-1 and 6-4 leads and remained winless since April 22, a span of six starts.
Local product Tom Gorzelanny was credited with the victory on the strength of two innings of one-run relief. Sean Burnett got the last two outs for the save.
If not for an absence fundamentals, then the Pirates could have put the game away earlier.
In the fourth inning, the Cubs scored three times to overturn a 6-4 deficit. The rally started when Aaron Miles struck out but reached first base on a Malholm wild pitch.
In the third inning, the Pirates had a 3-1 lead and starter Ryan Dempster on the ropes. On a full count with the bases loaded, LaRoche tapped an outside pitch back to the mound, where Dempster started a home-to-first double play to kill the threat.
Two innings later, the Pirates loaded the bases on three consecutive singles, but Jack Wilson popped out and pinch hitter Craig Monroe flied out.
“You can’t count Cubs out,” warned Nyjer Morgan, apparently aware of the recent history of the two teams. “They’ve got a heckuva squad over there. But we’re playing good baseball. We’re getting a lot of great pitching. If we keep the same mentality and the same effort that we’ve had every day, then we’ll be fine.”
The Pirates moved to 21-24 on the season.