The team with the majors’ best record need not have worried. Geovany Soto still had another at-bat to go.
Soto drove in seven runs and his second three-run double of the game keyed a seven-run eighth inning, helping the Cubs rally for a 14-9 victory over the Pirates on Tuesday night.
The Cubs trailed 8-7 entering the eighth but still won their fourth in a row to move 32 games above .500 for the first time since they were 90-58 on Sept. 15, 1984. Pirates reliever Craig Hansen (0-2) walked in the tying and go-ahead runs while walking three consecutive batters and Soto hit his second bases-loaded double in a span of five innings.
Soto added a solo homer and now has 78 RBIs in his rookie season despite usually batting in the lower end of the lineup, with 18 RBIs against the Pirates. He hit his 20th homer in the sixth, off Denny Bautista.
“Soto’s a clutch hitter. With men on base, he bears down,” manager Lou Piniella said.
In this game, Soto had runners on base during all but one of his five at-bats.
“I tried to stay on the ball and not do too much and have good at-bats for the team,” Soto said.
Soto did that and more while becoming the seventh major leaguer to drive in seven or more runs this season.
“Our guys battled, kept coming back, but it wasn’t easy,” Piniella said. “It really wasn’t one of our better games, but it’s in the win column and give these guys credit for really staying after it.”
And in a season they keep hearing about 1908, the last time they won the World Series, the Cubs flashed back to the season before, 1907—the last time until now they won nine consecutive series. They assured themselves of doing that by scoring 26 runs to take the first two games of the three-game series in Pittsburgh.
The Cubs are 13-4 against the Pirates, who lost their season high-tying sixth in a row and 10th in 12 games.
Derrek Lee added two RBIs and Soriano had three hits despite making a second potentially costly defensive gaffe in PNC Park this season.
Soriano fumbled Adam LaRoche’s easy fly ball to put two on with none out in the seventh, and Doug Mientkiewicz followed one batter later with his first triple in more than two years to put the Pirates up 8-7. Soriano’s dropped fly that he lost in the sun with two out in the ninth with the Cubs ahead led to a 6-5 Pirates victory in 11 innings on May 25.
“I don’t know what happened but maybe I have to have more concentration so it doesn’t happen again,” said Soriano, who can remember no other drops since moving from the infield to left field several seasons ago.
Soriano helped make up for his latest dropped fly with a single off Hansen immediately after Mike Fontenot singled off John Grabow to start the eighth. Hansen didn’t retire any of the four batters he faced, throwing only six of 18 pitches for strikes.
Sean Marshall (3-3) pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the victory.
Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano got another hit, his 13th consecutive start with at least one, and drove in a run for his eighth start in a row but couldn’t beat the Pirates as usual. He was 6-1 with a 3.47 ERA in 11 starts in PNC Park, only to leave after falling behind 3-0 in the first while giving up eight hits and six earned runs in 4 1-3 innings.
The Cubs, winners of 17 of 23 in August to open a five-game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central, came back to take a 5-3 lead with a four-run fourth in which Pirates starter Ian Snell walked two and Mark DeRosa singled ahead of Soto’s three-run, opposite-field double to right. DeRosa added an RBI double in the fifth for his 78th RBI.
“We did some things offensively but, obviously, we didn’t pitch very well,” manager John Russell said after the Pirates walked nine, hit a batter and threw two wild pitches.
Snell, coming off a season’s best seven shutout innings in a 4-1 win at St. Louis on Aug. 19, threw 96 pitches while allowing five runs and five hits in four innings. The Pirates are 7-17 since trading their best offensive player, Jason Bay, on July 31, a week after dealing productive outfielder Xavier Nady.
“We made some bonehead mistakes,” Snell said. “But this team is leaving everything it has on the field. … We got rid of some good players and it’s hurt us. But people need to get over that.”
Pirates 3B Andy LaRoche, hitless in 24 at-bats, struck out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth. … Soto’s seven RBIs are a Cubs season high. … Soriano singled and doubled in his first two at-bats and is 9-for-18 against Snell. … Zambrano is batting .365. … The Cubs have scored 10 runs or more six times against the Pirates.