Cubs

Jake Arrieta hits homer, but struggles with command late as Cubs fall to Pirates

Jake Arrieta hits homer, but struggles with command late as Cubs fall to Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The way Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon figures it, the list of relievers with better stuff than Pittsburgh's Felipe Rivero is short. Really short. There might be five.

After spending two nights watching Rivero have his way with Chicago's lineup, the list might be getting even shorter.

Barely 24 hours after working the eighth to preserve a Pittsburgh lead only to see it evaporate in the ninth following his exit, Rivero got the final five outs for his third save as the Pirates held on for a 4-3 win on Saturday night.

"He just goes out there, he's doing his job pitching," Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "Slow heartbeat - no heartbeat at all, actually."

Rivero entered with one out in the eighth and the tying run on second then walked Kris Bryant before retiring Albert Almora Jr. and getting a fabulous play by second baseman Max Moroff to end the threat. Rivero worked a perfect ninth to give the Pirates a boost following their meltdown the night before.

"To get five outs, it's a big save," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a good save for us, a bounce back game after (Friday) night."

Gregory Polanco broke out of a 3 for 31 slump with a two-run homer and McCutchen hit his 12th home run of the season. Ivan Nova (7-4) pitched seven strong innings, cutting loose after striking out pinch-hitter Jon Jay to end the seventh. His 94th and final pitch was also his fastest, a 97 mph fastball that Jay couldn't get a bat on.

"I said it was smart pitching," said Nova, who has worked at least six innings in all 13 of his starts this season. "I don't need to be throwing 97, 98 from the first pitch. My job is to locate my pitches and pitch 92 or 93. If I need to go harder, I feel good enough to throw."

Jake Arrieta (6-5) hit the fifth home run of his career but struggled with his command late and is now 0-3 with a 7.80 ERA in his last five starts against Pittsburgh. He went 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA the first 13 ties he faced the Pirates. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner was removed with two outs in the fifth inning following a sequence in which he uncorked two wild pitches and hit a batter. He blamed the wildness on sweating and not the laceration on his right (pitching) thumb.

"It's a helpless feeling when you can't put pressure on a ball and execute a pitch," he said. "It happens. You hope that you can just find a way to get through the inning a make an adjustment. I really wasn't able to."

Addison Russell hit his sixth home run of the season for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo led off the game with a single and went 2 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, but the defending World Series champions dipped back below .500 (33-34).

The Cubs have been unable to get anything going as their hangover from the franchise's first title in 108 years lingers. It looked like they found something Friday night, when they erupted for six runs in the ninth to rally for a win. The surge came against Juan Nicasio and Tony Watson, who came in when Rivero needed 20 pitches to get out of the eighth against the top of Chicago's lineup.

Nicasio was unavailable on Saturday, and when Daniel Hudson gave up a double to rookie Ian Happ with one out in the eighth, Rivero came in and did it again. Before the game, Maddon raved about Rivero's command and his comportment. Both were on full display as Maddon watched from the dugout and Nova watched from the trainer's room.

"It's amazing that guy that we have here," Nova said. "You can ask him for one inning, he'll throw one inning. You ask him for two innings, he'll go two innings. It looks so easy."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: Gave 2B Josh Harrison the day off for just the third time this season. Hurdle pointed to a draining stretch for Harrison - who leads the team with a .302 batting average - and a lackluster history against Arrieta (.077 average) as the major factors in the decision.

UP NEXT:

Cubs: Struggling veteran John Lackey (4-7, 5.26 ERA) will look for his first win in a month on Sunday in the series finale. Lackey is 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates: Jameson Taillon (3-1, 2.90) will try to win his second straight start since returning from a cancer scare. Taillon pitched five scoreless innings on Monday just five weeks removed from a procedure to deal with testicular cancer.

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

Hear from Jake Arrieta after his first start as a visitor at Wrigley Field, including his thoughts on facing his former teammates and the standing ovation he received during his first at-bat (1:30). Then, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by MLB Network's Mark DeRosa to discuss the Cubs' leadoff spot, the team outperforming expectations so far, and much more (8:15).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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