Pirates 6, Cubs 2
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Jason Bay’s All-Star break got a lot better with only two swings of his bat.
Bay, slumping for more than a month, hit a two-run home run off Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano while driving in four Pirates runs and left-hander Shane Youman held Chicago to two runs over six innings in Pittsburgh’s 6-2 victory Sunday.
The Cubs were one of the majors’ hottest teams with 11 wins in 13 games before dropping two of three to the Pirates, who go into the All-Star break off a modest surge of four consecutive series victories and five wins in six games against division rivals Chicago and Milwaukee.
The Pirates are 40-48 at the break, eight games below .500 but much improved from their 30-60 of a season ago. The Cubs are 44-43 despite not hitting a homer in their last nine games—their longest such streak since going 10 in a row in mid-July 1988.
“We haven’t hit the ball out of park and, sooner or later, we’ve got to start scoring some runs that way,” manager Lou Piniella said.
Bay knows exactly what he means.
“A home run was the last thing on my mind, the way things were going,” he said.
Bay was an All-Star game starter in Pittsburgh while hitting 35 home runs and driving in 109 runs last season but, until he homered for the first time since June 22, was 1-for-24. That slump was part of an even deeper 14-for-109 (.128) slide that caused Bay’s batting average to tumble from .314 on June 1 to .250.
“I wouldn’t write my ticket to the Hall of Fame just yet, but it feels a lot better going into three or four days off on this note rather than going in on a bad one—I got some hits, some timely hits,” Bay said. “Yeah, this is huge for me.”
Bay has carried the Pirates’ offense the last three seasons, yet they won nine of their final 13 before the break without much production from him. He had only one homer and seven RBIs in his previous 25 games.
“Sometimes you feel like you’ve never been in the batters box before,” Bay said. “Everything is off, your timing is off, you’re missing pitches, you’re scrambling to hit pitches you can’t hit. It’s just been a battle. I wasn’t helping the team much.”
Zambrano was 4-0 at PNC Park previously and was 7-1 with a 3.05 in nine road starts this season, but one bad inning did him in. Nate McLouth walked and Xavier Nady had a two-out RBI single in the third ahead of Bay’s 13th homer, a drive into the center-field bullpen.
Zambrano would seem to be a difficult pitcher to face while in a slump, but Bay is 12-for-33 (.364) with five home runs, four doubles, 16 RBIs and six strikeouts against him. Bay also had a two-run single in a four-run eighth against Bob Howry after the Pirates loaded the bases with none out on singles by Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche and Nady.
“Either I strike him out or he hits a home run,” Zambrano said. “You can’t make a mistake against a hitter like that, they make you pay.”
Zambrano (10-7) limited the Pirates to four hits over seven innings—they had two harmless singles in the fourth—but still lost for the first time in four decisions. He also missed out on what would have been an NL-leading 11th victory, losing to Pittsburgh for the second time this season.
“I had a rough time in the first two innings with my windup,” said Zambrano, who didn’t feel comfortable on the mound until making an adjustment following Bay’s homer. “I changed my delivery right after that.”
Youman is 2-0 since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis for his only two career victories, furthering the Cubs’ problems against left-handed starters, who are 14-8 against them. He allowed plenty of base runners—eight in six innings—but worked his way out of major problems with minimal damage several times.
“That’s what they’ve preached to me since the low minors, damage control,” Youman said. “Making guys swing the bats without too much happening.”
Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot singled to load the bases with none out in the second, but Youman got the next two hitters following Angel Pagan hit a sacrifice fly. DeRosa doubled as the Cubs put three of their first four batters on base in the sixth, but Ramirez grounded into a double play and Fontenot grounded out.
The Pirates have won six of eight series. … The Cubs had won four consecutive series. They remain 4 1/2 games back in the NL Central as division leader Milwaukee lost 7-2 in Washington. … Cubs SS Ryan Theriot and 2B Fontenot were College World Series-winning teammates of Youman’s at LSU in 2000. … Zambrano had won his last six road decisions. … Chicago came into the series winning 21 of 31.