"That says a lot for this team," starter Jason Marquis said. "Sometimes as a team in first place, you can have a mental letdown. You've got to make sure you take the same approach every pitch, every at-bat, [and] every game and not let the mental errors and mental mistakes get to you."
It was Marquis who set the tone for Chicago on Wednesday, breezing through seven innings and throwing 61 of his 95 pitches for strikes. The right-hander improved to 3-1 against the Bucs this season, which means one-third of his wins have come against one club.
"Today I just really focused on pounding in the zone and not letting hitters get away from me," Marquis said. "I made sure I pitched to contact and just let guys hit the ball."
Pirates starter Zach Duke was equally effective against the Cubs' potent lineup, matching Marquis inning for inning until the seventh. That's when Reed Johnson caught third baseman Andy LaRoche playing deep at third and led off the inning with a perfect bunt down the line.
"He wasn't moving," Johnson said of LaRoche, "so I decided that was a good opportunity to get on base, especially with leading off the inning."
From there, Mark DeRosa pounded a double to left field to put runners on second and third with no out.
But instead of slugging their way to victory, the Cubs played small ball. Ronny Cedeno tapped a soft grounder to third to score Johnson, and backup catcher Henry Blanco put down a suicide squeeze bunt to score DeRosa for the Cubs' second run.
"It seemed like the perfect situation," Blanco said. "We hadn't scored a run all day long, and we had a situation where we can squeeze him."
The play also proved that this Cubs team can score runs in different ways, as opposed to hitting extra-base hits and home runs.
"That's a sign of a good team," Johnson said. "We've been able to win the last couple of weeks here by sitting back and swinging the bat. Today, we just weren't swinging the bat very well, so we were able to play a little bit of a different game. It ended up working out for us."
Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood took it from there. Marmol threw a scoreless eighth and Wood collected his 27th save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Marmol's hold was his 25th of the season and ties him with Bob Scanlan and Jeff Fassero as the only Cubs relievers to record 25 holds in a season.
"This was a very well-played game basically on both sides," manager Lou Piniella said. "Our pitching today was the story."
The bench also had something to do with helping Chicago record 14 wins against a division rival in one season for the first time since 1954, when it tallied 15 wins against Pittsburgh.
Johnson, Blanco and Cedeno gave starters Jim Edmonds, Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto some much-needed rest.
"I think it's good for the guys that play every day, because we can give those guys a rest and we're not losing a whole lot," Johnson said. "We obviously have our best nine guys, and we've got guys like myself that can come off the bench and fill in and do a pretty good job as well."
The Cubs return home for a seven-game homestand that begins Thursday. The stretch drive includes playing 26 of the final 29 games against teams at or above .500.
"There's a challenge out there," Piniella said. "We're playing all the teams that are vying for the postseason except for teams out of the [NL] West. It starts [Thursday] against the Phillies."