After two marathon extra-inning wins in Pittsburgh, the Cubs will look to sweep the Pirates and win their fifth straight overall on Thursday.
The Cubs (5-3) led 7-0 after four innings on Monday and blew the entire lead, but wound up winning 10-8 as the Pirates (3-5) opened their home slate with a loss for the fourth straight year.
After a low-scoring start Wednesday, the middle game of the series took as many twists and turns as the opener. Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez broke a 2-all tie with a two-run homer in the 14th, but Pittsburgh’s Adam LaRoche evened the score in the bottom of the inning with his first homer of the season, snapping a personal 0-for-25 slump.
Another struggling player earned the Cubs the win in the 15th. Felix Pie, who was benched by manager Lou Piniella after going 3-for-15 in his first four games, drove in two runs to give Chicago the 6-4 win.
“It doesn’t matter how many hours you play, it’s most important to win,” said Pie. “Everybody’s happy when you win.”
Rich Hill (0-0, 3.00 ERA) will try to get the Cubs their fifth straight win for the first time since they took seven straight from June 22-29 last season. The left-hander pitched effectively in his first start of the season, going six innings and allowing two runs to Houston on Friday in a game Chicago lost 4-3.
“(Rich Hill) held the team to two runs, and that’s what you want from your starting pitcher,” first baseman Derrek Lee said after the loss. “We need to find a better way of scoring runs.”
The Cubs have done just that with 28 runs in their last four games, and Lee has been a big part of it, going 8-for-18 with two homers and three RBIs.
Ramirez seems to have found his swing against Pittsburgh, his former team. Chicago’s third baseman started the season hitting .211 with just one RBI, but has four hits and four RBIs in the two wins over the Pirates.
Pittsburgh has lost four of five since opening the season 2-1, and struggles from its pitching staff have been the team’s biggest problem. The Pirates have a 5.48 ERA through eight games, second-worst in the NL.
Matt Morris (0-0, 5.40) will get the start on Thursday, and a few years ago that would have been a scary sight for the Cubs. The right-hander was 10-2 with a 3.18 ERA in his first 17 starts against Chicago - all with the Cardinals - but is just 2-6 with an 8.22 ERA against the Cubs since.
Lee is hitting .355 (11-for-31) with four homers, three doubles and eight RBIs lifetime against Morris.
The Pirates have scored 46 runs through eight games - fourth-most in the National League - but they haven’t been getting much production from last season’s leading catalysts.
Jason Bay and LaRoche were hitting a combined .133 (6-for-45) with no RBIs prior to Wednesday, when each homered.
“It felt good,” LaRoche said of his first home run since Sept. 5. “It put us back in the ballgame and (gave) us another chance to win it.”
Bay and LaRoche are a combined 1-for-17 lifetime against Hill.
Hill was 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA last season in three starts against Pittsburgh.