By Nate Barnes
PITTSBURGH — The Cubs (62-84) struck first Thursday night, but couldn’t hold on as the Pittsburgh Pirates (85-61) opened their 11-game homestand with a 3-1 victory. Chris Rusin delivered a solid outing as he pitched seven innings and allowed two runs on four hits to qualify for a high quality start.
But Rusin (2-4) got little run support. The Pirates only threatened in the fourth against him but capitalized on that threat to collect most of their offensive production (two runs on four hits) in that inning.
“With the exception of a couple mistakes, I think I did a good job of keeping them off-balance,” Rusin said.
Besides the fourth, Rusin allowed a single base runner when he hit leadoff man Josh Harrison in the first inning. Harrison was erased two batters later when Andrew McCutchen lined to short and Starlin Castro doubled Harrison off at first after he broke on contact.
In the third, Darnell McDonald led off with the game’s first hit, a ball that bounced over the fence in deep left-center field for a ground-rule double. McDonald advanced to third on a groundout by Ryan Sweeney and scored the Cubs' lone run when Castro singled to left with two outs.
Chicago had a chance to add on more in the top of the fourth, when Junior Lake reached on an infield single and Welington Castillo walked with two away, but McDonald popped out.
From there, Pirates starter Jeff Locke regained control, and so did the Pirates as the Cubs' 1-0 lead lasted one inning.
Jordy Mercer led off with the Pirates’ first hit of the game with a one-out base hit, and McCutchen doubled on a ball that rolled down the third base line and hit the bag itself.
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Mercer was cut down at hom,e but McCutchen scored when the next hitter, Marlon Byrd, singled through the middle of the infield. Pittsburgh then took the lead on an RBI single off the bat of Pedro Alvarez that slammed off the base of the Clemente Wall in right field.
“The two runs (Rusin) gave up were seeing eye, ball hits the bag, cue-ball by Byrd hits the bag,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He did a great job against a lineup that kills left-handers, so to me that was his most impressive outing.”
Besides the fourth, though, Rusin kept the Pirates at bay in every other inning. But the Cubs couldn’t capitalize on an opportunity in the ninth inning after the Pirates took a 3-1 lead in the eighth.
Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo reached base leading off the ninth, but Pirates closer Mark Melancon retired the next three batters to record his 14th save of the season.
Opposite Rusin, Locke (10-5) went seven innings and allowed one run on three hits and a walk, while striking out five.
“He had really good command with his fastball, breaking ball, he had a good changeup too,” Castillo said. “You’ve got to give him the credit, he made his pitches, and he was really good.”
For Sveum, the loss comes as one in which the Cubs had a chance to pick up a win like they did in Cincinnati and St. Louis recently. Meaning, the pitching kept the Cubs within striking distance for all nine innings.
“The bottom line is not letting Byrd and McCutchen do serious damage, but they ended up being a part of the two runs,” Sveum said. “For the most part, you’re keeping their slugging percentage down and you don’t walk anybody, you’ve got a chance at getting out of innings and keeping the game close, and that’s what we did again.”