CHICAGO -- It started out as a laugher, but it turned into high National League Central drama.
The Cubs held off the Pirates on Friday for their fifth straight win, 11-10, in 12 innings, responding to Pittsburgh's erasure of deficits of 7-1 and 10-5 to draw even at 10 on Francisco Cervelli's RBI single with two outs in the ninth.
The Pirates had gone to the exact same strategy two innings earlier, when Polanco caught an identical flare by Szczur and turned it into an inning-ending double play by throwing Castro out at home.
"Yeah, it almost worked the same way," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, hardly downcast about the outcome. "We had positives all over the place. We dug a big hole and almost dug ourselves out of it. You'd like to finish it off; that didn't happen."
For the Cubs, who earlier got a three-run homer from Kris Bryant and a solo shot from Anthony Rizzo, the win streak is their longest since a similar five-game run last June 3-7.
"We really should have put that away earlier," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We played really well today. Don't be deceived, we played really well today. We didn't pitch well, but we played a good game of baseball. I'm really happy with the way we played, whether it was the at-bats, the hitting, the defense, the baserunning, everything. It really would have been a sin not to have won that game based on how well we played."
The Bucs chased Kyle Hendricks in the sixth, when Cervelli hit a bases-clearing double and then scored on Corey Hart's pinch-hit single to make it 7-5. Andrew McCutchen brought the Bucs within a run with a three-run homer in the eighth inning off Cubs reliever Pedro Strop.
"The bullpen, we've had those moments already this year. We have to get better," Maddon said.
Pittsburgh lefty Jeff Locke lasted only 3 2/3 innings for a second straight start in Wrigley Field, allowing six hits and five runs.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Locke gets picked: If ever the Bucs needed a shutdown inning from Locke, it was the fourth. Pedro Alvarez got them on the board with a solo homer in the top half, with the bottom of the Cubs' order coming up. No dice. Locke started Hendricks off with a 3-0 count, and Hendricks doubled and eventually scored. With two outs, Rizzo homered, making it 5-1.
"That was a perfect example of the day," Locke said. "You get a run on the board, and lead off the inning with a 3-0 count on the pitcher. That's not where you want to be. But it was very resilient of our guys to get back in the game."
More long ball: Bryant hit his fourth home run, a three-run shot to left-center on a full count for a 3-0 Cubs lead in the third. The third baseman has four homers in his past seven games after hitting zero in his first 20 games. Three of his four homers have been struck at Wrigley.
Unconventional move stops Bucs: The Pirates had rallied within 7-5 in the sixth, reloaded the bases and had McCutchen up with two outs. Maddon bought in lefty Zac Rosscup. McCutchen, a lifetime .327 hitter vs. southpaws, flied out softly to end the threat.
Helping himself out: Hendricks doubled into right field for his first career extra-base hit to start the bottom of the fourth. He advanced on a groundout and scored on Dexter Fowler's sac fly for a 4-1 Cubs lead.
"Adversity does make you tougher. We threw everything at them and came up short. We got to find a way to show up for [Jon] Lester [on Saturday]. It's the big leagues." -- Hurdle, on quickly getting over a numbing defeat
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Josh Harrison was charged with three errors at third base all last season. He drew his seventh error in 29 games at the position this year for muffing Castro's leadoff grounder in the fifth.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Gerrit Cole takes the ball in Saturday's 4:05 p.m. ET middle game of the series in a marquee matchup with Lester. Two and a half weeks ago on April 29, Cole didn't allow an earned run in six three-hit innings for an 8-1 win at Wrigley Field.
Cubs: Lester seeks his fourth straight victory in an afternoon game against the Pirates at 3:05 CT. The left-hander allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings in his one career start against Pittsburgh on June 24, 2011, when he was with the Red Sox.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. Sarah Trotto is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.