Bucs survive Hanrahan's wild ninth to snap skid

Bucs survive Hanrahan's wild ninth to snap skid

Bucs survive Hanrahan's wild ninth to snap skid
CHICAGO -- It couldn't have been easy.

Not for a team mired in a season-high seven-game losing streak, or for an organization fighting for a playoff spot and its first winning season in two decades.

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan entered the ninth inning with a three-run lead and allowed two runs before striking out Chicago's Dave Sappelt with the bases loaded to secure a 7-6 victory over the Cubs on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

"It's fun, but that's obviously not how you write it up, especially a seven-game losing streak," Hanrahan said. "You want to go out there and have it pretty smooth."

It wasn't. Not in the least.

Hanrahan opened the ninth by allowing a double and walk before Alfonso Soriano knocked a one-out RBI single. He then issued consecutive two-out walks before striking out Sappelt to convert his 35th save of the season, in his first opportunity since Aug. 17.

"If it was about everybody's comfort, you'd choose to do it differently," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "But usually when you push through something like we're going through right now, it's going to take some drama and it's going to take some wherewithal and confidence -- and some grit."

The win, only the Pirates' third in their last 14 games, ended their skid and inched the Bucs closer to the second National League Wild Card spot. The Pirates now sit two games behind the Cardinals and Dodgers, who are tied for the second spot after Los Angeles defeated St. Louis on Saturday night.

"It's a huge game for them," Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. "It's fun for us to be in situations where we can play in games that mean something at this time of the year."

Inconsistency and a lack of execution were the chief reasons the Pirates found themselves in another late-season swoon. Mostly excelling in those areas on Saturday was why Pittsburgh finally won.

The Pirates successfully pulled off a second-inning hit-and-run, watched Andrew McCutchen go deep for the second straight day and received a fifth consecutive quality start from Wandy Rodriquez before the ninth-inning drama.

Cubs starter Jason Berken began the day by hitting Starling Marte, who advanced to third on an errant pick-off attempt by catcher Welington Castillo. Marte scored on Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly to left.

Clint Barmes opened the fourth by reaching on an error by Cubs third baseman Josh Vitters and, after consecutive groundouts, the Pirates rattled off four straight hits -- including RBI hits by Marte, Travis Snider and Jones.

"Today, we did a lot of good things, a lot of things we maybe haven't done in the past week or so," Barmes said. "And there were some plays that may have hurt us and cost us the game, but today we were able to find ways to get it done."

Only two of the six runs Berken (0-1, 4.50 ERA) allowed were earned. The first stemmed from the second-inning hit-and-run, in which Pedro Alvarez advanced to third on a single by Barmes and scored on Rod Barajas' single off the wall. The other was McCutchen's leadoff homer in the third, which was his 28th of the year, tying him with Brian Giles (1999) for the most homers in a single season for a Pirates center fielder.

Barmes' homer in the seventh inning was the team's 94th on the road this season, passing the 1958 squad for second most in franchise history.

The Pirates didn't execute perfectly in the win, as a throwing error by Rodriguez led to a two-run Cubs sixth. Sappelt led off with a single and advanced to third when pinch-hitter Brett Jackson hit a comebacker to Rodriguez, who spun and threw the ball into the outfield.

Rodriguez (11-13, 3.65 ERA) allowed three runs (one earned) in six innings, lowering his ERA to 1.95 in his last five starts. He has allowed only four earned runs in his last 25 2/3 innings, and has a 2.76 ERA in his last five starts at Wrigley Field.

Rodriguez's turnaround -- after losing his first three starts as a Pirate -- is what Pittsburgh as a whole now looks to accomplish with its losing streak done.

"There's no reason we can't. We've proven we can go out there and battle with any team," Barmes said. "It's going to be exciting. Hopefully, everybody in here jumps on board and starts pushing in the same direction."

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.