Travis Snider already had put his helmet back in the dugout when he felt a tug from behind.
The crowd was beckoning him back on the field, and teammate Neil Walker was pushing him onto the dugout steps for his first career curtain call.
"I actually grabbed the wrong helmet because I was kind of caught off guard," Snider said. "I had to grab Gaby [Sanchez's] and run up there just to make sure I had something in my hand. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do."
Forgive Snider if he was unsure of the protocol -- it was his first grand slam. But the timing could not have been better as it ignited a sluggish Pirates offense and triggered 5-4 victory against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.
"Wow," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Pinch-hit grand slam, those don't happen every day."
Pirates vs. Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
LHP Francisco Liriano (1-0, 1.64) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (2-5, 3.49).
- Key matchup:
Neil Walker vs. Cubs pitching. Entering this series, Walker was hitting .301 with 27 RBIs and a .903 OPS in 39 career games against the Cubs.
- Hidden stat:
In 39 career innings against the Pirates, Samardzija has surrendered just one home run.
It had been more than 1,000 days since the Pirates' previous pinch-hit slam by Jason Michaels came June 8, 2008, against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. With two outs and the bases loaded, Snider smacked a 2-1 changeup from Chicago reliever Shawn Camp over the right-center field wall -- just barely.
"I knew it was close," Snider said. "I had to watch and see. Luckily, it was a couple feel over, if that."
The grand slam put the exclamation mark on an 11-batter, five-run, sixth-inning uprising before which the Pirates had just one hit.
The Cubs had the go-ahead run on in the ninth when slugger Anthony Rizzo stepped to the plate. But Jason Grilli struck out his former Team Italy teammate to end the game and earn his league-leading 18th save this season.
Grilli had surrendered his third earned run this season earlier in the inning.
Chicago starter Matt Garza cruised in his season debut, pitching five scoreless innings. He allowed one hit, struck out five and walked three after missing most of the first two months with a lat strain. He missed most of the second half of 2012 with elbow soreness.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said before the game that Garza would be on an 85-90 pitch limit after throwing 75 in his longest rehabilitation outing. He finished with 82 with 49 for strikes in his first outing since July 21, 2012.
The Pirates attacked a shaky Chicago bullpen after Garza left the game.
They loaded the bases in the sixth before Pedro Alvarez drew a bases-loaded, full-count, check-swing walk to score Walker and cut the Cubs' lead, 3-1.
After Gaby Sanchez lined out to left field, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sent up Snider to pinch-hit for Clint Barmes, and Snider belted his second homer this season -- both in the past week.
Entering Tuesday, the Cubs (18-26) had the fifth-worst bullpen in the National League with a combined 4.11 ERA. The Pirates (27-18) had the second best at 2.81. The difference was clear Tuesday.
After Justin Wilson pitched himself into a two-on, one-out jam, he struck out Julio Borbon and got Starlin Castro to ground out to end the threat.
In a similar situation in the sixth, the Cubs' bullpen crumbled.
Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez (5-2) earned the win, allowing three earned runs on six hits in six innings.
He struck out five, walked none and now leads the Pirates in wins. After surrendering three runs in the second, Rodriguez hunkered down to give the Pirates some much-needed innings.
"He held fast, with no inning better than his last one," Hurdle said.
The Pirates couldn't get a hit off Garza until the fifth, when Barmes dropped a soft liner into shallow right. After Rodriguez's sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, Jose Tabata grounded out to short to end the inning, narrowly beaten by a throw from Castro.
Garza helped his cause in the second with an RBI double in his first at-bat this season.
With two outs and runners on first and second, he laced a low-flying liner into the right-center field gap, scoring both runners and staking the Cubs took a 3-0 lead.
The Cubs' pitching staff has more RBIs (13) than any other pitching staff in the majors.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published May 22, 2013 2:45 AM