CHICAGO -- Pedro Alvarez launched his third home run in two days Thursday afternoon -- this one carried over the center-field bleachers at Wrigley Field in the seventh inning and gave the Pirates a 5-4 win against the Chicago Cubs.
Until Alvarez's three-run homer bounced off the roof of a party suite well beyond the bushes in center, it was shaping up to be a rough day for the Pirates.
Cubs left-hander Travis Wood stymied the Pirates through six innings, and Chicago took a 4-0 lead in a wild fourth that included a call at home plate that drew ire from the dugout and nearly sent the game spiraling away.
Starlin Castro was ruled safe by home-plate umpire Mark Carlson, scoring on a single to left by Welington Castillo.
Replay indicated catcher Tony Sanchez hung onto the ball and might have tagged Castro out.
"Infuriating," said Sanchez. "You put your body on the line for your team to try and save a run. I don't know what his reasoning was. How he calls him safe? The ball beat him. I held onto the ball. The kid slid into me. Unfathomable really."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Carlson made no reference to the new home-plate collision rules, just that Castro was safe. The Pirates did not challenge the call.
"That he barely got his foot to the plate before the tag was made. No obstruction. None. Never came up," said Hurdle. "Yeah, that play's reviewable. I chose not to challenge. Because I chose not to challenge, if I give you another answer we've got 10 more questions."
Carlson said after the game that Castro simply beat the play.
"I didn't have him violating any rules for the collision play," said Carlson. "His foot touched the plate before the catcher had possession and control of the ball."
Travis Snider started the comeback with a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the seventh before Alvarez's first-pitch homer against left-handed reliever James Russell.
"Sometimes, that first pitch is the best one you see," said Alvarez. "[I'm] just trying to be ready for pitch number one. Just trying to be ready to hit as soon as I step in the box."
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third when Emilio Bonifacio found a new way to hurt the Pirates. He scored after Sanchez's throw to second on a stolen-base attempt sailed into the outfield. As Bonifacio headed to third, he turned to look over his shoulder and accelerated.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had scooped up the ball, but his throw came in late, off line and, most likely, had no chance to nail Bonifacio, who scored standing up.
Before that four-run spurt, Wood struck out two Pirates to end the third and struck out three in a row in the fourth.
Three singles and a wild pitch by starter Gerrit Cole made it 3-0, before Castro's controversial run made it 4-0.
Sanchez said he watched the replay and was convinced the Pirates were doomed on the call because that's where the new home-plate collision rule might have come into play.
"When I went in and watched the replay, you know if he called him out, they would've challenged it and the play would've gone their way," said Sanchez. "Starling makes a perfect throw. I make a great catch, great tag, sacrifice my body, and none of us get rewarded. It's clear I'm not a fan of the new rule."
Cole said Castro looked out to him, too.
"I don't know. I had him out. I don't know. That was just the way the game was going," said Cole. "I mean seriously. For us to be able to persevere through that kind of stuff speaks volumes of how we play out every pitch."
The Pirates loaded the bases in the third with the heart of the order coming up, but Wood struck out McCutchen and Alvarez swinging to strand three. Cole walked to start the inning and slid safely into third on Jose Tabata's infield single.
Cole came up holding his back, and it appeared as if the ball hit him on the small of his back. He returned to the mound, though, and wound up pitching six innings, allowing five hits, four runs (three earned), with 10 strikeouts and a wild pitch.
Closer Jason Grilli escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth. Bonifacio was at the plate with two outs and a chance to win it, but Grilli induced a ground ball to first base and recorded his third save of the young season.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez