Sanchez, Morgan lead Pirates past slumping Cubs 10-5
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Perhaps the Chicago Cubs should stop worrying about the Brewers and Cardinals, the teams they’re competing with in the NL Central, and become more concerned with the clubs well below them in the standings.
Freddy Sanchez’s bases-loaded triple highlighted Pittsburgh’s six-run second inning and rookie Nyjer Morgan made an exceptional catch and drove in two runs, allowing the Pirates to knock the Cubs out of the division lead with a 10-5 victory Sunday.
Sanchez, one of the majors’ hottest hitters the last six weeks, had four RBIs as the Cubs’ fifth loss in seven games and Milwaukee’s 10-5 victory in Cincinnati put the Brewers back into the NL Central lead. Chicago had owned or shared first place since Aug. 17.
“Look, this loss here isn’t life or death,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We’re behind, I understand. One game in the standings? If we play well enough, we’ll have a chance to get back on top. If we don’t, it’s not going to matter.”
Still, there was a sense of disappointment among the Cubs that they won only once in three games against Pittsburgh, which is two losses away from a 15th consecutive losing season.
“Our goal is to win series. We didn’t win this series, so you turn the page,” Derrek Lee said. “Every game is urgent right now, it’s that time of the year. Every game is huge. … We need to do a better job of winning series.”
But Chicago starter Steve Trachsel (0-2) lasted only two innings—he is 1-6 since June 13 with the Cubs and Orioles—as the Pirates came back with the pivotal six-run inning keyed by doubles from Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson and Sanchez’s three-run triple. Morgan and Steve Pearce, both of whom made their major league debuts this month, also had run-scoring singles.
“Let’s not get too down about this loss. You’ve still got 20 games to do something,” Piniella said.
Chicago has won 10 of its last 15 against the other contenders for the division title, the Brewers and Cardinals. But the Cubs have dropped seven of 12 to both the Pirates and Reds, whom they face a combined nine times in those last 20 game.
Sanchez tried to stretch his triple into an inside-the-park homer in the second, but was thrown out at the plate on shortstop Ryan Theriot’s relay throw. Sanchez added a run-scoring grounder during a three-run ninth keyed by pinch-hitter Jose Castillo’s two-run double against Kerry Wood.
“I gave it my best shot, but I could feel the wheels starting to come off before I got to third base,” Sanchez said. “I’ve never had an inside-the-park homer and I doubt I ever will. Those are for fast guys.”
Morgan, a 27-year-old prospect sidelined for much of this season at Triple-A Indianapolis by a broken thumb, added another RBI single in the fourth against reliever Carmen Pignatiello for his second RBI of the game and third of his career.
Morgan’s biggest contribution might have been his excellent catch against Aramis Ramirez to end the Cubs’ fourth.
Morgan, playing Ramirez to pull, was shaded toward left field but raced all the way to the gap in right-center to stretch out and make the catch. Ramirez was left shaking his head in frustration, a common sight lately for the Cubs in Pittsburgh.
“It’s a play I’m used to doing,” Morgan said, though agreed later it wasn’t a normal grab. “It was a shot that was in the gap and I expected him to hit it the other way. I just got a good read on it and I had to make a nice play.”
The Cubs tried to get back into it on Alfonso Soriano’s 24th homer and fourth in four games, a two-run shot off Morris, and Geovany Soto’s pinch-hit homer in the seventh. But Piniella was forced to use eight pitchers during a tiring stretch in which the Cubs don’t have a day off from Aug. 27 through Sept. 20.
The Cubs were supposed to be off Monday, but will return to Chicago to play a makeup game against St. Louis before going back on the road Tuesday at Houston.
“We’ve been playing .500 roughly for a month, or a little below,” Piniella said. “Sooner or later we’ve got to do a little better than that.”
Morris managed to last six innings despite his poor first, giving up seven hits and four runs.
The Pirates remained one loss away from a 15th consecutive non-winning season. … Cubs RHP Sean Marshall, who has started 18 times this season, pitched in relief for the first time in his career, majors or minors. … Trachsel is 1-6 since June 13. He may have pitched his way out of the rotation only 10 days after being traded by Baltimore, with Marshall likely to resume starting. … Wilson had two more hits and is 16-for-26 (.615) in his last seven games. … Steady rain began falling at midgame but play was never stopped. … Pirates OF Jason Bay (right knee) will have an MRI exam on Monday. … Sanchez has 39 RBIs since Aug. 1, the most in the NL.