A blueprint for victory was demonstrated by the Chicago Cubs on Saturday when they took an early lead and then the bullpen kept the visitors in check.
Sunday was another day and the Cubs were happy to see starter Carlos Villanueva go four innings against the first-place Pirates at Wrigley Field.
A pinch-hit home run by Scott Hairston in the seventh inning and a staunch performance from the bullpen gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead against the Pirates.
But Starling Marte hit a 2-out homer in the ninth inning on a 3-2 pitch from closer Kevin Gregg to tie the game 3-3.
The Cubs came back to win 4-3 in the 11th inning as pinch-hitter Dioner Navarrro hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
“Right now we can say we have the pieces to fill those last three innings,” said manager Dale Sveum, who watched James Russell, Matt Guerrier and Gregg finish up what Edwin Jackson started in Saturday’s 4-1 win.
“Obviously Gregg has done a great job (15 saves). Blake Parker has done a great job since he has been here in the pressure situations. He has proven he can pitch in the back end. You’ve got Guerrier who has done it. He has a lot of experience with a 4-pitch mix that gets lefthanders out actually better than he gets right-handers. Then you mix Russell in to get the lefties out. So you have the combination if everybody is available that day to hopefully make things a little easier in the second half with those last few innings.”
Sveum said he did not plan on having the luxury to mix-and-match pitchers to Pirates hitters on Sunday because of the number of relievers he anticipated using.
The Pirates started A. J. Burnett in the rubber match of the three-game series. Villanueva has been a swing starter and reliever this season. The recent trade of starter Scott Feldman to the Orioles thrust Villanueva back into a starting assignment.
The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Villanueva led off with a single to center. A one-out double to right-center by Starlin Castro put runners on second and third. Anthony Rizzo hit a high bouncer to first that Garrett Jones bobbled for an error as Villanueva scored.
Alfonso Soriano hit a sacrifice fly to center to tally Castro.
The Pirates scored a run in the fourth inning when Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen hit back-to-back doubles to open the inning to make it 2-1.
Villanueva was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth after throwing 65 pitches. He was charged with one run on three hits. He walked one and struck out five. Hector Rondon took over for Villanueva to start the fifth inning.
The Pirates tied the game 2-2 in the fifth as Burnett led off with a base hit. Starling Marte was barely safe at first on a double-play ball. With two outs, Tabata rapped his second double of the day to score Marte.
Hairston hit his 10th career pinch-hit homer to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead after