Sometimes players forget baseball can be fun. Right-hander Edwin Jackson reminded himself of that prior to taking the mound for his latest start in what has been a dismal start to his Cubs career.
Among the more troubling aspects of Jackson’s season has been his inability to pitch well at Wrigley Field. He entered the Cubs’ series-finale against Pittsburgh on Sunday 0-5 with a 7.83 ERA at home.
“I told myself just come out and have fun,” said Jackson, who signed a four-year deal in the offseason. “Whatever happens, let it happen having fun. Sometimes we take the game to serious and you’re kind of confined into a bubble. Today I was able to come out of that bubble and have some fun out there.”
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Getting good results will do that for a guy. Jackson pitched a season-high seven strong innings in his best performance in a Cubs uniform, helping Chicago avoid a sweep by the Pirates with a 4-1 victory.
Jackson allowed only one run on four hits with one walk and eight strikeouts. Backed by a clutch three-run home run by reserve infielder Cody Ransom, Jackson improved to 2-8 overall and shaved more than half a run from his ERA to 5.76.
“He’s a great pitcher and he’s got a pretty good track record,” Ransom said. “I faced him on the other side a few times and he’s not fun to face. He’ll be all right.”
Ransom’s heroics instantly reversed the Cubs’ fortunes through the first five-plus innings against Pirates starter Jeff Locke, who carried a no-hitter through 5 ⅔ innings despite control issues.
Despite Jackson’s stellar outing, the Pirates were the first to strike. Andrew McCutchen led off the fourth with a double to left field and later scored the game’s first run on a single by Garrett Jones.
Jackson prevented further damage by striking out Russell Martin before getting Pedro Alvarez to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Locke kept the Cubs hitless through five innings, though he did allow at least one baserunner in the first four innings. But of his five walks in that stretch, four came with two out, and no Chicago player advanced past second base.
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The best of the limited threats came in the third when Locke walked Ransom and Anthony Rizzo with two outs. But with Alfonso Soriano at the plate, Ransom strayed too far from second and was picked off when Locke twirled and threw to Neil Walker.
“He got caught sleeping a little bit there,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “But he’s got an almost .800 OPS playing against left-handers. He’s done a great job defensively. He’s doing everything and more than what we expected when we picked him up.”
The Cubs finally broke through against Locke in the sixth after Ransom drew a lead-off walk and later scored the Cubs’ first run. Following the walk, Ransom went all the way to third on a slow infield roller by Anthony Rizzo to Walker, who ran to first to beat Rizzo. The Pirates used the infield shift against Rizzo, and Ransom saw third base unoccupied, so he kept motoring past second.
A one-out walk to Soriano gave the Cubs two runners on base with less than two outs for the first time against Locke, who entered with 28 walks in his first 12 starts. Scott Hairston followed with a long fly ball to center, scoring Ransom on the sacrifice fly.
Locke’s no-hit bid came to end as Navarro lined a single to left to continue the rally and chase Locke, who threw 100 pitches in 5 ⅔ innings. Locke finished with six strikeouts and seven walks and one wild pitch.
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Meanwhile, Jackson kept the Pirates’ bats in check through his 91-pitch performance. He retired the first seven hitters he faced before allowing a pair of singles in the third. The Pirates struck for their run in the fourth, but Jackson didn’t allow another hit after Jones’ RBI single. McCutcheon was the Pirates’ only other runner against Jackson, drawing a one-walk in the sixth.
Jackson left for pinch-hitter Julio Borbon in the seventh. Borbon and Darwin Barney then scored on Ransom’s home run into the left-field bleachers off reliever Justin Wilson.
Carlos Marmol pitched a perfect eighth -- striking out two -- and Kevin Gregg earned his seventh save overall and first since May 12 despite giving up a pair of hits in the ninth.
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak against the Pirates and improved the Cubs to 7-18 within the National League Central.
“We don’t have a bad team here,” Ransom said. “We’ve lost a lot of close games. If we turn a few of those around we’re going to be OK.”
They just have to remember to have fun while they’re playing.