Locke picked; Pirates' momentum stolen by Cubs

Lefty charged with three runs over 5 1/3; club maintains WC spot

Locke picked; Pirates' momentum stolen by Cubs

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates got a reminder on Saturday night that the path into the postseason is not a Yellow Brick Road, but a treacherous route with an occasional sinkhole.

They were pushed into one by the Cubs, who rode left-hander Felix Doubront's wizardry and home runs by Javier Baez and Matt Szczur to a 6-4 victory at PNC Park.

The defeat did not hurt the Pirates' chase of the National League's No. 2 Wild Card, as Milwaukee and Atlanta were also defeated to keep them 1 1/2 and 3 games, respectively, behind the Bucs. However, it did not help their hopes of still overtaking St. Louis for the NL Central title, as the Cardinals' win over Colorado raised their division lead to 3 1/2 games.

"We go where the game takes us. We know what we're playing for. Regardless of the score, we continue battling, playing the next inning, not the last one," said manager Clint Hurdle, whose Bucs trailed 6-0 going to the bottom of the eighth -- and had the potential tying run on deck when the game ended.

For much of the night, the Cubs had taken the fight out of the Pirates and the spirit out of a crowd of 38,024, as the 19th sellout of the season sat through the bummer.

The crowd, and its heroes, finally came to life a couple of innings after Doubront's departure.

The Bucs loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Dan Straily, and the house first vented when Russell Martin pulled an 0-1 pitch high, deep and a few feet foul of grand slam territory. A few pitches later, Martin gave the crowd another chance to erupt, clearing the bases with a double down the third-base line. The entrance of Pedro Strop meant the end of the fun.

Jeff Locke went 5 1/3 innings on a yield of only six hits, but four of them came consecutively to open the third, and they included a two-run home run by Baez, the .174-hitting rookie shortstop who now has nine home runs -- and 69 strikeouts -- in 155 at-bats.

"Apparently, that's all he does," Locke noted. "He's hitting below .200, he finds the bat barrel, that's for sure, and we've seen him strike out a ton."

Baez continued to avenge the way the Pirates had silenced him last weekend in Chicago, holding him to 1-for-8 with four strikeouts. He went yard a night after taking Gerrit Cole deep. The Cubs added another run that inning as Chris Valaika bounced into a double play with men at the corners.

The Cubs stretched out to a 5-0 lead in the seventh with two runs off Brandon Cumpton, on Welington Castillo's sacrifice fly and Mike Olt's RBI double, and Szczur added his first Major League homer, off Justin Wilson, in the eighth.

Travis Snider led off the ninth with a home run off Chicago closer Hector Rondon to cut the deficit to 6-4.

As relatively modest as it was, the Cubs' three-run third matched the most prolific inning allowed by Pirates pitching in nearly a month, since the Braves put up a five-spot in the fifth inning on Aug. 19. That is quite an endorsement of the inhibiting arms that have fueled the postseason drive.

Saturday night, the most magical arm belonged to Doubront, the Trade Deadline acquisition from the Boston Red Sox -- the Cubs needed to replace the two starters they had themselves dealt, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

It was an amazing performance by Doubront, who retired the side in order in the first, then began taunting the Pirates, so to speak. In each inning from the second through sixth, the Bucs got the leadoff man on base. However, the only time they followed up with another baserunner was in the fourth, when Andrew McCutchen led off with a single and Martin also singled -- but only after McCutchen had been thrown out attempting to advance on a not-so-wild pitch.

So the Bucs never managed two simultaneous baserunners against Doubront, who was removed after the sixth. He had thrown only 84 pitches, so perhaps Chicago manager Rick Renteria merely wished to make a change before Doubront misplaced his magic wand.

The vanquished team's manager apparently was slightly more impressed with Doubront's work than the vanquished players.

"A very well pitched game by their starter," Hurdle saluted. "He was running the cutter in to right-handers, keeping it in a real good spot. He was getting the two-seamer down and away and elevating some fastballs when he wanted to."

Josh Harrison, who had another leadoff hit in the eighth that finally led to some scoring, had his mind more on two blasted line drives off Doubront that ended innings -- by Gaby Sanchez with a man on second in the second, and his own rope with a man on third in the fifth.

"That's baseball -- he got out of a couple jams with a little bit of luck," Harrison said. "One of those nights ... there was no deception to him. He was just getting away with a lot."

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.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.