CHICAGO -- Cody Ransom made up for a baserunning gaffe with a heads-up play and then belted a tie-breaking three-run homer in the seventh to back Edwin Jackson and lift the Cubs to a much-needed 4-1 victory Sunday over the stingy Pirates at Wrigley Field.
"We did a lot of good things today, little things," Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro said. "At the end, good things always happen when you do the little things."
Pirates starter Jeff Locke continued a trend in this series, as he stymied the Cubs over 5 2/3 hitless innings. With Pittsburgh leading 1-0 in the sixth, Ransom walked and reached third when Anthony Rizzo grounded out to second. Because of the Pirates' defensive shift, no one was covering third, so Ransom took off and was safe.
That's the good baserunning play. The Cubs use the same defensive alignment, and know they can't be caught napping. Ransom recognized an opening. Alfonso Soriano then walked, and Scott Hairston followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the score at 1-1.
Locke was already gone when in the seventh, pinch-hitter Julio Borbon was safe on a fielder's choice against Justin Wilson, then moved up on Darwin Barney's single to set up Ransom's homer, his sixth, to make it 4-1.
"He's a gamer," Jackson said of Ransom, whom the Cubs claimed off waivers on April 16 from the Padres. "When he's out there, he's playing to win. He's an aggressive player. He took advantage of a situation, going from first to third [in the sixth]. That's the kind of player he is."
Ransom was happy to contribute after he was picked off second base for the final out in the third. That was the bad baserunning play.
"He got caught sleeping a little bit there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "[Ransom] has got almost an .800 OPS playing against left-handers and done a great job defensively. He's done everything and more since we picked him up."
Ransom, who platoons at third with Luis Valbuena, was watching Locke.
"I was watching his grip, honestly," Ransom said. "He was gripping a knuckle curve. I didn't know you could pick off with that. I got a little greedy and got a little big and got picked off. It was awful and not a very good play, but it worked out later in the game, I guess."
On Saturday, Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett didn't give up a hit until Nate Schierholtz's leadoff double in the fifth. Locke topped that when he held the Cubs hitless until Navarro singled with two outs in the sixth. But Locke also walked seven, which ran up his pitch count, and he was lifted after the hit, which came on his 100th pitch.
Jackson, on the other hand, was efficient. He gave up four hits over seven innings in his longest outing of the season. The right-hander struck out eight and walked one, picking up his first win in seven starts at Wrigley Field.
The difference? Navarro said it was fastball command. Sveum said Jackson threw with conviction. Jackson was able to smile.
"I told myself to come out and have fun," Jackson said. "Whatever happens, let it happen. Stay relaxed, stay loose and just play the game. Sometimes we take the game too seriously. We can get confined in a bubble. Today, I was able to come out of that bubble and have some fun out there."
It would be easy to not have fun when your record is 1-8 and you have a 6.29 ERA, which Jackson did at the start of the day.
"Maybe taking it too serious is the way to describe it," Jackson said of his previous starts. "It's a game, and sometimes we have a tendency to take it too seriously and get too confined and too locked up and too tight instead of going out and relaxing and having fun."
He's had some bad breaks. The Cubs coaches study videos of hitters' last 100-200 at-bats to pick up tendencies so everyone is in the right spot on defense. Unfortunately, whenever Jackson pitches, teams have not been following the patterns.
"Not that it's an excuse ... but all it takes is half of the ground balls to be caught," Sveum said before the game. "Unfortunately, they seem to be finding holes. We put a lot of effort into putting people in the right position and his ground balls seem to be overwhelming to the opposite of where they're supposed to go."
The Pirates scored thanks to a pair of well-hit balls in the fourth as Andrew McCutchen doubled to lead off and scored on Garrett Jones' line drive single to center. One out later, the Cubs' defensive shift was perfect as Jackson got Pedro Alvarez to hit into a double play. Ransom, positioned on the left side of second, started it.
"You put people in right situations and positions," Sveum said. "The law of averages will catch up with you once in a while and one bouncing ball will change a whole game around. Another great outing, that one bouncing ball is caught and the inning is over. It is a game of inches sometimes and that's what happens."
In the first inning, Barney was perfectly positioned to handle Travis Snider's grounder, and Ransom made a solid stop on Russell Martin's ball in the second. This time, it worked.
"They work their butts off to put us in the right position," Ransom said of the coaches.
This time, it all worked.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.