CHICAGO — Pirates starter Charlie Morton gave up two home runs in a 6-3 loss Friday to the Cubs to open a three-game series at Wrigley Field, falling behind, 5-0, in the decisive third inning.
Morton escaped an early jam before loading the bases in the third when the Cubs delivered two big blows.
Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run double on a curveball, and Starlin Castro clocked a 378-foot home run on an 0-2 curve, which left the Pirates trailing, 5-0.
Morton said in both situations he left the ball up.
“The one to Castro, I’d like to have that ball down a little bit more. It was a bad pitch to him in that situation. Two strikes, got to bury it,” Morton said. “I put the ball to places where they could hit it and hit it hard.”
Jordy Mercer punched back with a three-run homer to left-center field in the fifth after Edwin Jackson issued back-to-back walks. That cut the Cubs lead to 5-3.
But Chris Coghlan drove a changeup out of the park off Morton in the fifth and the Pirates never rebounded.
The Pirates stranded two runners each in the sixth and seventh and were just 2 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
The loss was the fourth in the past five games and dropped them three games under .500 (35-38).
The game pitted Morton against Jackson for the fourth time this season, ranking their matchup as the most seen in the majors this season.
Morton did give the bullpen a break, lasting six innings. He gave up eight hits, six earned runs, walked two and struck out six.
“I think [it was] a couple mistakes up in the zone with the breaking ball,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The breaking ball to Rizzo with the bases full and another to Castro he didn’t get located where he wanted to. The solo home run was a split that stayed up as well. He did give us volume and length which we sorely needed today. But the big inning sunk us.”
Coghlan tripled to the corner in right field with one out in the first.
Morton got out of the jam by striking out Rizzo on a ball that hit his foot and was originally scored a wild pitch with a run scored. But a review showed the ball clearly struck Rizzo’s foot, and Coghlan went back to third. Castro popped out to right to end the inning.
Morton was not so lucky in the third.
He loaded the bases with two singles and a walk before surrendering the double to Rizzo and the homer to Castro.
Castro has homered off him three times this season.
“I’ve given up six home runs this year, three of them have been him. He’s hitting me tough,” Morton said. “One was a four-seamer that was just up, up. He got to it. The one [Friday] was a curveball. The other one was another curveball I just hung. The one today was probably the best location, the best pitch of those three.”
Jackson went five innings, gave up five hits, three earned runs, two walks and struck out eight.
His slider was neutralizing.
“He had a good feel for his slider, he threw it a lot,” Mercer said. “It’s all about locating for him, we kept fishing for it. My at-bat he just left one up and I put a good swing on it. You pretty much know what he’s going to do. When he does have a feel for that slider you know he’s going to go to it a lot. So you’re hoping he’s going to hang you one.”
Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless seventh and Jason Grilli — who was moved out of the closer’s role — pitched a scoreless eighth.
The Pirates had a chance to score in the second.
Pedro Alvarez got caught in a rundown between first and second and Ike Davis broke for home. He was thrown out, but catcher John Baker — who received the ball before Davis arrived — appeared to partially block the plate.
The call stood after a review.
Davis said he never had a clear lane to the plate.
“I could see it behind him. But I don’t know the rules, I don’t get it,” Davis said. “He never moved. He stood on the line the whole time, caught it, then dropped to a knee. But he never gave me a place to begin with. I was out by quite a bit, but I don’t really understand [the rule].”
Rookie Gregory Polanco went 1 for 4 with a walk to extend his hitting streak to 10, all since being called up to the majors.
Jenn Menendez email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
Jenn Menendez firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez First Published June 20, 2014 12:00 AM