PITTSBURGH -- The Cubs began Friday night's game with a wacky first inning and ended it with a wild ninth, rallying for six runs to swat down the Pirates' comeback and secure a 9-5 series-opening win at PNC Park.
"That [ninth inning] was pretty nice to watch from here," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was ejected three pitches into the game after arguing a procedural move by the umpires. "The one thing that stood out [in the ninth] was the opposite-field hitting, moving the ball the other way."
Trailing by one run after eight innings, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras tied the game with back-to-back doubles off Juan Nicasio -- the right-handed half of the Pirates' late-innings bullpen platoon. Tommy La Stella singled to left, and the Pirates elected to intentionally walk Kris Bryant. In came former closer Tony Watson, recently demoted to lower-leverage work, with the bases loaded and nobody out in the ninth.
"No excuses," Nicasio said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "I threw my pitches where I wanted them, and they did their part."
Jon Jay lined a go-ahead single to left, then Anthony Rizzo choked up and slapped a two-run single in front of Pirates left fielder Adam Frazier. With two outs, Addison Russell swatted a two-run double to center, chasing Watson and capping the Cubs' come-from-behind effort.
"That's all it takes is one big hit and you saw it there in the ninth," Russell said. "It was great at-bats all around in the ninth inning."
Josh Bell did his best to power the Bucs' lineup, hitting a home run in the fifth and a game-tying triple in the sixth, but the Pirates were done in by their third blown save in the past two weeks.
The six runs were the most the Cubs have scored in the ninth inning since they tallied seven on June 17, 2015.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED First things first: The Cubs had a home run taken off the board and their manager ejected in a crazy first -- and that was only three pitches into the game. Rizzo's apparent leadoff homer was determined to be a foul ball during a sequence that sent Maddon to the clubhouse earlier than expected. Still, the Cubs sent six hitters to the plate and all of them reached safely; Ian Happ scored on a wild pitch, and Contreras doubled home two more runs before getting thrown out at third base trying to stretch it to a triple.
"Rizzo hit a home run that was called fair," Maddon said. "That's the call on the field. [The umpires] get together -- whereas instant replay is available to them -- they get together and somehow decided the ball was foul. Nobody was absolutely positive of that. ... Now the burden of proof came back to whether or not it was fair or not. If it had been confirmed foul, I'm fine. But the play stood. If we had gone right to replay immediately after this thing was hit, and they said it was foul, I would've been in that game for nine innings. But the way it came down procedurally, I totally disagree with." More >
Bullpen by committee: When the Pirates pulled Watson out of the ninth exactly a week ago, they declined to name a designated closer to replace him. Instead, manager Clint Hurdle said, the job would be filled by the right-handed Nicasio and lefty Felipe Rivero. With Rizzo, Happ and Kyle Schwarber due up, two lefties with a switch-hitter sandwiched in the middle, Hurdle opted to use Rivero in the eighth. The decision paid off, at first, as Rivero pitched a scoreless inning. But Russell ran up his pitch count, seeing 10 pitches before striking out to end the inning, and Nicasio had to face the lefty Heyward to lead off the ninth. Nicasio unraveled quickly, and the Cubs capitalized.
"It set up the way we talked about it setting up, and we didn't finish it off," Hurdle said. More >
"We had to go out there and see what we could do with it, have some fun with it. We figured it wasn't going to last long. We might as well try. ... That's what they provided us, so if they're going to provide it, we'll wear it." -- Cubs starter Eddie Butler, on having long white sleeves of his undergarment of his throwback uniform cut off before the bottom of the first
"It was scissors. It was a foul ball. Lot of stuff I haven't seen before. That was the first time I've seen a homer called a homer, then no it's not, then you've got the review. I've never seen a guy pitch with white sleeves before, either." -- Hurdle, on the bizarre sequence of events in the first inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Butler did not strike out a batter, and is the first Cubs starter to go at least 5 2/3 innings without a strikeout since Kyle Hendricks did so, Sept. 3, 2014, against the Brewers (5 2/3 innings).
Heyward robbed Gregory Polanco, the Pirates' struggling No. 3 hitter, of a single in the first with a five-star catch, sliding to snag Polanco's low line drive. The play had a 24 percent catch probability, according to Statcast™, as Heyward needed to cover 35 feet with only 2.9 seconds of opportunity time. Heyward is 2-for-7 on five-star catches and he became the seventh player to make multiple five-star catches this season.
Frazier made an impressive play of his own in the fourth, chasing down Contreras' fly ball to left field, a ball with a 44 percent catch probability, according to Statcast™. Frazier had to cover 82 feet in 4.8 seconds to make the four-star grab.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With two outs in the Pirates' second, Andrew McCutchen walked, and the Cubs thought they had him picked off after Butler's throw to first baseman Rizzo. McCutchen was called safe but the Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned.
In the fourth, Polanco hit a drive down the right-field line similar to Rizzo's that was ruled foul and went to a crew chief review. The umpires confirmed the call on the field.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jake Arrieta has been inconsistent lately, but maybe facing the Pirates will help. He's 9-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 16 career starts against Pittsburgh, although he's given up 22 earned runs over 23 innings in his past four outings against the Pirates. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT from PNC Park.
Pirates: The Pirates and Cubs will continue their three-game series Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET at PNC Park with right-hander Ivan Nova starting for the Bucs. Nova has pitched at least six innings in each of his 13 starts, and he is coming off a dominant performance against the Marlins: one hit in six scoreless innings. Nova faced the Cubs once last year, in a rain-shortened 1-1 tie at PNC Park.