PITTSBURGH -- The National League Central race got a little bit tighter -- and the NL Wild Card race became a little looser -- on Tuesday afternoon at PNC Park.
Starling Marte's eighth-inning sacrifice fly scored pinch-runner Pedro Florimon from third base, giving the Pirates a 5-4 win over the Cubs in the day portion of a split doubleheader between the division rivals. Pedro Alvarez had led off the inning with a walk off Justin Grimm, and Florimon, running for Alvarez, stole second and advanced to third on catcher Miguel Montero's throwing error.
Marte drilled a hard liner on his first at-bat in five days, having been sidelined by a shoulder bruise and a battle with gastroenteritis.
"He tried to stay ready in the cage, and there was an opportunity to get him involved on the defensive side, and he showed up well on the offensive side," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Marte, who had entered the game defensively in the top of the seventh and was in the Bucs' starting lineup for the night portion of the doubleheader.
When Mark Melancon had finished nailing down his club record-tying 46th save, the Bucs had crept to within two games of the NL Central-leading Cardinals, who will play in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. The victory also moved the Pirates, who hold the NL's No. 1 Wild Card spot, five games up on the Cubs, who would be the NL's second Wild Card entrant.
"When you start running out of games, there's a different [rhythm] to the season," said Hurdle, whose club moved 31 games above .500 (87-56) for the first time since Sept. 30, 1992. "But it's not like we hit a 'big series' button. I really believe one of the reasons we're having the success is having that focus daily."
"Maybe not how you draw it up, but a win's a win, and we need 'em," Cole said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was not pleased with the miscues, including the late-inning leadoff walk by Grimm and the error by Montero.
"When you get to that latter part of the game, we have to do a better job of forcing the other team to beat us as opposed to self-inflicted wounds," Maddon said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The wild one (or two): One minute, Cole was sailing toward his 17th win, leading, 4-1, with one out and nobody on in the seventh. The next minute, he was out of the game, still with a 4-2 lead but leaving two men in scoring position. A minute after that, he had a no-decision and the Cubs had forced a 4-4 tie, thanks to the wild pitches by Soria.
"I was pulling my arm a little bit, while trying to make quality pitches. In that situation, with the game on the line, you don't want to give 'em a cookie," said Soria, who has thrown five wild pitches in 21 games with the Pirates after throwing none in 43 appearances with Detroit prior to being acquired in a July 31 trade. "I was so glad to see Florimon score that run, then have Mark close it out for us."
In a pinch: La Stella provided a spark off the bench in the seventh. The Cubs had two on and one out when La Stella delivered a pinch-hit double to left to chase Cole and cut the deficit to 4-2. Soria took over and threw a wild pitch during Dexter Fowler's at-bat, which allowed one run to score. La Stella then scampered home on Soria's second wild pitch of the inning to tie the game at 4.
The wrong field for a hit: Cubs pitcher Trevor Cahill felt pretty good when he led off the fifth inning with a sharp liner off Cole that found grass in right field -- until the ball also found right fielder Gregory Polanco on one hop. Charging the ball from a shallow position to begin with, Polanco unleashed an 87.3-mph throw, according to Statcast™, that got Cahill at first by several strides.
Slow start: Cubs starter Jason Hammel struggled in the first inning, throwing just five of his first 16 pitches for strikes. The Pirates took advantage, scoring three runs. Hammel has given up 17 earned runs in the first inning for a 5.46 ERA. Hammel walked two and hit a batter in the opening frame. He's averaging 3.3 walks per nine innings in the second half of the season after posting only 1.6 walks per nine innings before the All-Star break. The Cubs had the bullpen busy as early as the first.
"There were too many uncompetitive pitches today," Hammel said. "It was unacceptable. It was pretty embarrassing the first inning. I was battling myself the whole inning. To give up three runs that inning was actually a pretty good job, because it was pretty embarrassing." More >
"Walks hurt, wild pitches hurt, errors hurt. It was a hard-fought game, but I think both sides would've liked to have not given away so many runs." -- Maddon
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
A day game at PNC Park with Chris Stewart behind the plate is a parlay tough to beat. At home, the Bucs are 17-2 under the sun and 15-1 with Stewart catching.
This was the Bucs' 12th consecutive one-run win at home, their longest such streak since they won 13 such games in a row at Three Rivers Stadium in 1977.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: After the Cubs try to earn a split of the day-night twin bill, Jake Arrieta will try for his 20th win on Wednesday when the Cubs play the third game of their four-game series against the Pirates. The last Cubs 20-game winner? Jon Lieber, who went 20-6 in 2001. Arrieta has thrown 16 consecutive quality starts and is 13-1 with a 1.00 ERA in that stretch. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.
Pirates: After wrapping up Tuesday's twin bill, the Bucs will resume their four-game set against the Cubs at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday in PNC Park, handing A.J. Burnett his second start since a stint on the disabled list.