CHICAGO -- Neil Walker could have been a dead man, right there at home plate.
He knows it.
"Had to take the chance, just had to," the Pirates second baseman said. "This is what we are about now. We have to be the aggressors if we want to change what we are about."
It was Walker's aggressive baserunning that lifted the Pirates to a 5-4 victory against the Chicago Cubs Sunday at Wrigley Field.
Walker's never-look-back dash from second to home in the ninth inning is the encapsulation of what this version of the Pirates have manifested into under manager Clint Hurdle.
With the Pirates trailing, 4-3, Walker stood on second with one out. Garrett Jones was at third with slugger Pedro Alvarez at the plate, bent on getting at least a piece of any nasty slider from Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol.
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM 104.7.
- Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (2-12, 7.57 ERA in 2010) vs. RHP Kyle Lohse (4-8, 6.55 ERA).
- Key matchup: Charlie Morton vs. himself. This is Morton's first start of the season after a rejuvenating spring training where he was 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA. How he handles his first start after a rocky 2010 is something to keep an eye on.
- Of note: The Cardinals have .359 batting average against Morton, higher than any other team.
When Alvarez hit a roller toward Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, Walker watched the play develop. He rounded third with a singular aim.
"As soon as I saw it, my goal was to score," Walker said.
Castro's off-balance throw pulled first baseman Carlos Pena off the bag, allowing Alvarez to reach first. Pena, in one motion after picking the low throw from the dirt, wheeled and threw home but Walker was able to slide underneath catcher Geovany Soto, who attempted to tag him as he gathered the ball.
Closer Joel Hanrahan came on to work the bottom of the ninth and made Walker's run stand up. Hanrahan got a double play to end the contest.
It was a game where the Pirates took a 2-0 lead on Ronny Cedeno and Alvarez RBI singles in the first three innings. Starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, who went six innings, worked a strong opening three before getting into trouble in the fourth.
In that inning, Pena drove in two runs with a double off the wall in right to tie the score, 2-2. The Pirates fought back to take a 3-2 lead but Alfonso Soriano hammered an Ohlendorf pitch for a solo homer in the sixth.
The Cubs, who got a 12-strikeout performance from starter Matt Garza in his team debut, withstood 16 Pirates hits -- all singles -- and an attempt by catcher Jason Jaramillo to tag up and score in the eighth. He was thrown out from right field by Tyler Colvin.
Trailing by a run in the ninth with runners on first and second and no outs, Hurdle made a non-traditional call. He had clean-up hitter Lyle Overbay put down a sacrifice bunt to move Jones to third and Walker to second.
"Got to do what we got to do," a satisfied Overbay said. "You do what is asked of you to win."
That set up Alvarez's grounder to short and Walker's dash home.
Once the crowd of reporters left his locker stall in the crammed Wrigley Field clubhouse, Walker thought for a moment about a component of the play that could have gone differently.
Walker's decision not to stop at third came just before Castro threw the ball to first.
What if Castro had decided to throw home instead of to first?
"I would have been dead, dead," Walker said. "I just made my decision and had to live with it. I tried to force them to make a play."
Which he did ... which is the way Hurdle wants his players to perform.
"Neil plays the game that way," Hurdle said. "It is something that, once he saw the play develop, he knew there was a very good shot to pull something off, and he did. He's a ballplayer."
As for Alvarez's view of the play?
"I was just busting it to first," he said. "But, for me, it's a single in the book, right?"
A single that secured the Pirates' first road series win since they took the first two of a three-game series July 27-28 in Colorado. The Pirates lost the final nine series they played away from PNC Park.
The Pirates won just four road series last season and were victorious in only 17 road games.
"It is a good first step for us to get on the road and play like this in this type of environment," Hurdle said. "This is an exciting venue to play in, and we were able to show up and score one more run than them."
One more run because Walker took a chance.
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published April 4, 2011 8:00 AM