PITTSBURGH -- After three intense one-run games in a key series between National League Central contenders, the Cubs afforded themselves some breathing room on Thursday at PNC Park. Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer touched off a six-run, seven-hit fifth-inning flurry and the Cubs stormed to a 9-6 win over the Pirates, tightening the NL Wild Card standings.
"We come ready to play," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of his team, which finished its longest road trip at 7-4. "Mission accomplished in the sense that our guys went out and played the same game all year."
With their third consecutive win over the Pirates -- handing them their first loss in a four-game series since July 7-10, 2014 -- the Cubs moved within two games of the top Wild Card spot, which comes with home-field advantage in the Oct. 7 NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser. The second-place Pirates were pushed five games behind division-leading St. Louis, which beat Milwaukee, 6-3.
Neither starter -- right-handers Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs and Charlie Morton of the Bucs -- made it past the fourth inning on a warm, light-air day. The clubs combined for 28 hits and four homers, three of them -- Travis Snider, Gregory Polanco, Pedro Alvarez -- by the Pirates. Lefty Clayton Richard, acquired in a July 3 trade from the Pirates, got credited with the win after allowing two runs in 3 1/3 innings; Richard also contributed a two-run double to the big fifth.
"It wasn't like they were hitting really good pitches and I just didn't get out of it," said Morton, who gave up three consecutive hits to start the fifth, including Rizzo's 30th homer, before getting the hook. "They were just bad pitches."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kang injured: Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang incurred a left knee injury when he was taken out by Chris Coghlan in the middle of a first-inning double play. Coghlan's right leg clipped Kang's knee as he released -- without much elevation -- the throw to first to complete the double play. Making his first start at shortstop since Sept. 2, Kang is out for the season after he underwent surgery to repair a torn cartilage and a fractured tibia Thursday night. He's estimated to return to action in six to eight months.
"It's all baseball, absolutely baseball," Maddon said of Coghlan's slide. "I think they'd agree with that."
"A hard slide," said Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker, who had fielded Rizzo's grounder to initiate the double play. "In that situation, given the magnitude of this series, your goal is to break up the double play at second as best you can." More >
Big inning: The Cubs sent 10 batters to the plate in the fifth -- and the first eight reached before the Pirates were able to get an out. Rizzo launched his 30th homer, Addison Russell notched his second RBI of the game with a run-scoring single, and even Richard joined in with his two-run double. Richard then scored on Tommy La Stella's single. More >
Start me up: Hendricks posted his shortest outing of the season, lasting three innings. It was his 14th no-decision in 29 outings, the fewest for any pitcher with at least 29 starts. Richard, who began this season in the Pirates' Minor League system but was dealt to the Cubs in July, went 3 1/3 innings, and Maddon called him the MVP of the game. Whoever didn't pitch Thursday among Richard, Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood was expected to start Saturday against the Cardinals.
"I got beat on a couple pitches," Hendricks said. "Looking at it, I was throwing across my body. Something has to click here. The offense, that was fun to watch."
"It's just validation. We've played that day's game, and that's all we've done." -- Maddon, on posting a winning road trip
"It was a rough day all over the place for us." -- Pirates manager Clint HurdleMore >
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With homer No. 30, Rizzo became the second Cubs left-handed hitter with multiple 30-homer seasons; only Hall of Famer Billy Williams has done so, posting five 30-plus homer campaigns from 1964-72.
The Pirates lost for only the sixth time this season in the 31 games in which they have homered at least twice.
On a day little went right for the Pirates, they did take a Chicago run off the scoreboard by successfully challenging the safe call when Rizzo tried to score from third on a sixth-inning bunt by Russell to Alvarez at first. The call was overturned on review, with replays indicating catcher Francisco Cervelli applied the tag in time.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Dan Haren will open the Cubs' final regular-season homestand on Friday, starting against the Cardinals. The right-hander is 5-3 with a 3.77 ERA against the Cardinals, and threw seven scoreless innings in a Cubs win on Sept. 7 at Busch Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.
Pirates: As the Pirates hit the road for the last time, Jeff Locke will kick off a tough test in Los Angeles by facing the Dodgers on Friday night at 10:10 p.m. ET in Dodger Stadium.