PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Chicago Cubs splurged on closer Craig Kimbrel last month in hopes of shoring up the back end of their spotty bullpen.
So far, the seven-time All Star is fitting in for all the wrong reasons.
Jung Ho Kang scored on Corey Dickerson’s sacrifice fly to cap a frantic ninth-inning rally off Kimbrel and lift the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the struggling Cubs on Wednesday night.
Kimbrel (0-1) came on to protect a one-run lead and pick up his second save since signing a three-year deal with Chicago. Instead he trudged to the dugout with his teammate walked off with his first loss since joining the Cubs. The Pirates used a walk, a flare that turned into a double and some aggressive base running to win their third straight.
The closer walked Elias Diaz on a full count with one out. Kang followed with a double to right that Chicago’s Willson Contreras couldn’t track down. Diaz beat the throw to the plate from Chicago second baseman Addison Russell on Adam Frazier’s fielders’ choice. Kang sprinted home when Kyle Schwarber’s heave from left field following Dickerson’s fly ball was late to set off a giddy celebration.
“I think my stuff was moving and I was throwing it where I wanted to a little bit more, but didn’t get the results,” Kimbrel said. “That doesn’t always work out.”
Not the way the Pirates are playing.
Pittsburgh has won 12 of 17 following a seven-game losing streak to pull within one game of .500 (42-43).
“That was nuts. Craziest ending to a game that I’ve ever seen,” said Pittsburgh first baseman Josh Bell, who hit his 26th home run of the season and added a double to give him 59 extra-base hits, the most ever by a National League player before the All-Star break. “I feel like that just adds to the momentum.”
Starling Marte collected three hits for the Pirates. Frazier’s streak of hits in seven straight at bats ended in the first but he singled in the seventh. Melky Cabrera went 3 for 4 and delivered a two-run home run off Chicago starter Yu Darvish but was also thrown out at home by Contreras to end the eighth while trying to score on a single by Colin Moran.
All it did was set the stage for Pittsburgh’s 21st comeback win of the season.
“We play hard from the beginning to end,” Diaz said. “It’s special.”
Victor Caratini homered from both sides of the plate for the Cubs, including a go-ahead two-run shot in the seventh off Francisco Liriano to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead. Javy Baez added his 22nd home run for Chicago but the Cubs lost their fourth consecutive game.
Chicago missed a chance to pull even with Milwaukee for first in the jam-packed NL Central, where all five clubs are separated by 4 1/2 games heading into July 4.
“These kinds of losses are difficult but you have to come back and play the next day,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s how the game is set up. I do like the fact that we played a better brand of baseball. We did a lot of things well in spite of not having everybody out there.”
No team has been able to take control of the division. Chicago looked like it was ready to in early June, but an 8-19 stretch brought the Cubs back to earth.
Chicago president Theo Epstein has threatened changes if the Cubs don’t get going, and Chicago called up outfield prospect Robel Garcia on Wednesday after he racked up 21 home runs in the minors following a five-year stint playing in Italy.
Garcia ended up striking out in the eighth in his first big-league at bat, but by then Caratini had already given the Cubs the lead.
Caratini’s fourth home run of the season and second of the game put Darvish in line to win his first game since April 27. Darvish endured a stretch of 10 straight no-decisions — the longest by any starting pitcher in 42 years — before a loss to Atlanta last week. He worked crisply for most of his 6 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and no walks while throwing 62 of his 86 pitches for strikes.
Cubs: RF Jason Heyward was held out of the lineup due to pain in his left side and his back. He hopes to play Thursday.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (right elbow strain) plans to play catch in the near future and hasn’t ruled out a return to the mound this year. Taillon, who hasn’t pitched since May 1, said recent imaging on the elbow suggested he is healing. … C Francisco Cervelli (concussion) has been cleared to practice. … RHP Keone Kela (right shoulder inflammation) threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Saturday. … RF Gregory Polanco (strained left shoulder) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday.
Cubs: Jose Quintana (5-7, 4.12) will try to win consecutive starts for the first time since April in the series finale on Thursday.
Pirates: Jordan Lyles (5-4, 3.71) takes a three-game losing streak into Thursday.
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