Pirates' seven-game skid ends -- barely

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CHICAGO -- Before the game Saturday against the Chicago Cubs, closer Joel Hanrahan said, the Pirates said they were going to break their seven-game losing streak.

Hours later, protecting a lead that had dwindled to one run with the bases loaded in the ninth, Hanrahan produced the final strikeout that officially ended the streak.

The Pirates beat the Cubs, 7-6, at Wrigley Field for their first win since Sept. 5, when they defeated the Houston Astros at PNC Park. The victory against Chicago also prevented the Pirates from dropping to .500 for the first time since June 2.

"It's been a grind, but this whole season has been a battle," said shortstop Clint Barmes, who went 2 for 5 and delivered his seventh homer. "I think this is just another test to show and prove that that's what it's going to take. If we're going to win games and we're going to get to the playoffs, we're going to have to earn it."

The Pirates used extra-base hits to build a big lead and largely retained it until the late innings thanks to another strong outing from Wandy Rodriguez.

But Hanrahan, who entered the ninth with a three-run lead, had not pitched since Monday and his previous save came Aug. 17. Three walks, two hits and two runs later, Hanrahan struck out Dave Sappelt to leave the bases loaded and earn his 35th save.

"We haven't had the lead in the ninth inning for a long time," Hanrahan said. "Whatever it takes, you've got to leave it out there. I was all over the place, but, fortunately, we were able to get that last strikeout."

Hanrahan threw 33 pitches, 14 strikes, but manager Clint Hurdle wanted Hanrahan to have the chance to finish what he started.

"He was the guy that was going to have the ball and finish things off," Hurdle said. "You want to protect him from injury, but you don't want to protect him from being the guy. He's earned that opportunity."

The Pirates offense produced five extra-base hits and took advantage of Cubs errors that moved runners into scoring position, scoring four unearned runs against starter Jason Berken.

"That's a break we've been looking for," Hanrahan said. "We haven't had that in a while."

The Pirates also benefited from Andrew McCutchen's 28th homer.

The Pirates got six fine innings from Rodriguez (11-13), who allowed three runs, one earned, and nine hits, all singles. He has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his past five starts.

"The confidence is there," Hurdle said of Rodriguez's recent performance. "The wherewithal just to make pitches and attack people, I think that's what we're seeing now. He's just getting the ball and firing. There's no complicating things upstairs."

Berken (0-1) and the Cubs gift-wrapped the Pirates a run in the first. He hit Starling Marte with two strikes. Catcher Welington Castillo threw to first to try to pick off Marte, but the ball went into right, and Marte sped to third. Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly scored Marte.

Another error put another Pirate in scoring position in the fourth. This time, third baseman Josh Vitters bounced a throw into the stands on a Barmes grounder. Three batters later, Marte tripled to the wall in right-center, starting a two-out, three-run rally that widened the lead to 6-1.

Barmes' homer gave the Pirates a 7-3 lead and proved crucial in the ninth, when Joe Mather blooped a double to center, Alfonso Soriano hit an RBI single and Luis Valbuena walked with the bases loaded, cutting the Pirates' lead to one.


First Published September 16, 2012 4:00 AM


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