PITTSBURGH -- Marlon Byrd has been everything the Pittsburgh Pirates could have hoped.
The veteran outfielder hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning and rookie Gerrit Cole pitched seven superb innings to lead the Pirates to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh won for the fifth time in six games and moved into a first-place tie in the National League Central with the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost 4-1 to the Seattle Mariners. The Pirates hold a 2 1/2-game lead on the Cincinnati Reds in the NL wild card standings.
Byrd homered to the first row of seats in right-center field with one out in the seventh inning off James Russell (1-6) to put the Pirates ahead 2-1.
It was Byrd's 23rd home run of the season and second in 17 games since the Pirates acquired him on Aug. 27 from the New York Mets in a trade. Byrd, a 12-year veteran who has never played in a postseason game, is also hitting .323 and has seven doubles.
"It's a blast," Byrd said. "To come here where we're selling games out, the whole town is excited, you have the whole thing of wiping out the streak of 20 (consecutive) losing seasons -- it's just been amazing experience so far. What will be more amazing, though, is playing in October."
The Pirates tied the score 1-1 in the sixth inning when Jose Tabata hit a one-out home run, his fifth homer of the season, off starter Scott Baker.
"That was as good of a swing as Jose has put on a ball all season and it came against a guy who wasn't letting us square up many pitches," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Cole (8-7) surrendered a first-inning run and five hits as he won for the just the second time in his last eight home starts. He struck out seven and walked three.
The 23-year-old right-hander has been outstanding in his last six starts, going 3-2 with a 2.29 ERA with 35 strikeouts and nine walks. He seems to be only getting stronger despite pitching a combined 173 1/3 innings between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis in his second professional season.
"You never know where surprises are going to come from," Hurdle said. "You didn't know where he was going to be able to take you this season, but his actions are speaking loud and clear."
Cole couldn"t come up for much of explanation for being at his best so late in his rookie year.
"I'm just staying with my routine and chuckin' it as long as I can every time I get the ball," he said with a smile.
Cole has had most of his struggles at home as he is 5-5 with a 3.95 ERA in 10 starts at PNC Park, compared to 3-2 with a 2.29 ERA in six road starts. However, he held the Cubs in check.
"They kept coming at me, they battled me hard," Cole said of the Cubs, who are last in the NL Central, 24 games behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis. "I had to work to go seven innings and give up one run."
Tony Watson pitched the eighth and Mark Melancon worked the ninth to finish the five-hitter and register his 15th save in 17 chances.
Baker was good again in his second start with the Cubs since recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, allowing one run and three hits in six innings with four strikeouts and no walks. Last Sunday, in his first major-league outing since Sept. 22, 2011, with Minnesota, Baker pitched five scoreless innings against Milwaukee.
"He threw the ball well again," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "His velocity was a tad better this time and he has that live fastball that really moves. There's still something there, that's for sure. He's done a good job."
Though Baker has two no-decisions to show for his fine work, he is happy to be able to pitch in the major leagues again.
"It's definitely fun to go out there and compete, first and foremost, especially after having something I love kind of taken away from me," Baker said. "The biggest thing you can do as a starting pitcher is give your team a chance to win and I've been pleased to be able to do that after being out for so long."
Chicago scored a run off Cole in the first but missed a chance for a bigger inning. With one out and runners on first and second, Nate Schierholtz doubled into the gap in right-center field to drive in Starlin Castro, who led off with a single. However, Anthony Rizzo was thrown out trying to score from first base.
"The relay turned out to be huge because it saves us a run," Cole said. "You couldn't have executed the play any better."
NOTES: Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez will not pitch again this season because of continuing pain in his left arm. Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since June 6 with forearm tightness, continued to feel pain Saturday, two days after pitching a five-inning simulated game. ... Pirates LF Starling Marte had six plate appearances in a simulated game, facing LHP Kris Johnson. Though Marte continues to feel pain in his bruised right hand, the Pirates are hopeful he may be able to return to the lineup as soon as Monday. ... OF Brian Bogusevic started in left field for Chicago in place of OF Junior Lake for the third time in four games. Bogusevic was 0-for-3 after entering the day hitting .357 with three home runs in nine September games. ... The four-game series concludes Sunday with Cubs LHP Travis Wood (9-11, 3.05 ERA) facing Pittsburgh LHP Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.92).