McLouth ends Bucs' slide vs. Cubs
Center fielder drills two-run homer in the ninth inning
CHICAGO -- It took some dirt on Damaso Marte's face, a crafty block of home plate and another long ball from Nate McLouth for the Pirates to finally get to pass out high-fives in the Wrigley Field infield after a game.
A 7-6 win for the Pirates on Saturday that even Alfonso Soriano couldn't ruin, despite his best efforts, snapped the Bucs' much-lamented 10-game losing skid to the North Siders and gave them their first win at Wrigley Field after seven losing tries.
"It's great," starter Zach Duke said. "Hopefully we can start a streak of our own here and prove that we can beat them in their place."
This Pirates' win against the National League Central-leading Cubs was sealed by none other than McLouth, who continues to be the club's offensive catalyst. With one on and the game tied in the ninth, McLouth connected for a two-run homer off Carlos Marmol that landed just over the right-field wall.
"Against a guy like that, who has as electric as stuff as he does, you don't try and do too much," McLouth said of his approach. "Today, I happened to get a fastball, and I didn't miss it."
The homer was the 12th of the season for McLouth and his second of the year against Marmol, who has given up just those two. For McLouth, the homer was his second ninth-inning, game-winning blast of the season. He also did so back on April 14 in Los Angeles.
"He's been one of those guys that we've leaned on a lot, and he seems to come through for us," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He's been a big catalyst for us."
McLouth's home run would be the easy choice for the team's play of the game, though it shouldn't be the only nominee. For one, two defensive plays certainly stand out.
The first came in the third, while the Cubs were hitting Duke with relative ease. They had already run out to a 3-1 advantage when Mark DeRosa laced a two-out double that rolled to a stop near the left-field ivy. Cubs catcher Geovany Soto decided to try his chance at scoring from first.
However, with Ronny Paulino blocking home plate, Soto slid around the Pittsburgh catcher, his foot just passing over the top of the plate. Paulino made a nice snag on shortstop Brian Bixler's relay throw and applied the tag for the final out of the inning.
"That was a great relay, and that kind of started a shift of momentum there," Duke said. "That was kind of the turning point."
It proved to be a turning point for both the offense and for Duke. After trading runs in the fourth, the Pirates became the first team this season to knock out Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano before the sixth.
Zambrano, who came into the game with a 6-1 record, faced five hitters in an eventual three-run fifth and didn't retire any.
"He seemed to lose a little focus there in the fifth," Russell said. "We stayed patient and kept working the count. For some reason, he got a little off, and we took advantage of it."
Duke opened the inning by drawing a four-pitch walk before back-to-back singles by Freddy Sanchez and McLouth brought him around to score. After a walk to Jason Bay, an Adam LaRoche RBI single and an Xavier Nady sacrifice fly put the Pirates in front, 5-4.
With the lead back in hand, Duke became unhittable. The lefty settled in and retired the final eight hitters he faced.
After watching the Cubs swing aggressively against fellow lefty Tom Gorzelanny a day earlier, Duke had altered his approach.
"They came out [Friday] pretty much swinging at every first pitch they saw -- mostly fastballs -- and they were hitting them hard," Duke said. "So I said, 'If they're going to swing like that, I'll come out with a game plan against that.'"
It worked, and it had the lefty in line for his third straight win when he was relieved by Tyler Yates in the seventh. But the advantage didn't last past Yates' second pitch, which Soriano deposited in the left-field seats.
The game-tying blast was Soriano's second of the game and his fourth of the series.
"At this point, it's tough to know how to play him," McLouth said. "I really don't know how we're going to get him out, to be honest with you."
Marte came in and held the Cubs at bay in the eighth, ending the inning by making a phenomenal defensive play with one runner on. When DeRosa's grounder up the middle got past him, Marte sprung off the mound, nabbed the ball at the edge of the infield dirt and, with his momentum taking him face-first into the dirt, flipped the ball over to first base to beat DeRosa by less than a step.
"I didn't know where [the ball] was," Marte said afterward. "I just picked it up and threw it to first base on instinct."
Despite another hit in the ninth by Soriano, who would come around to score one batter later, Matt Capps held on for his 10th save of the season by inducing a game-ending flyout to the warning track.
"Take them any way you can get them," Russell said with a grin.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.