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Inexperience a factor, as Cubs' rally slams Pirates

| Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, 6:34 p.m.
The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo watches his go-ahead grand slam in the sixth inning against the Pirates in Chicago on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (AP)

CHICAGO — A rookie starting pitcher armed with a five-run lead could not make it through the fifth inning. A journeyman reliever could not hold a four-run lead. Another rookie hit a leadoff triple, then was caught in a rundown.

So much inexperience. So many blunders. Another mind-bending loss for the Pirates.

Anthony Rizzo one-upped Pedro Alvarez in a home run derby Sunday at Wrigley Field, powering the Chicago Cubs to an improbable 13-9 victory that dropped the Pirates three games behind St. Louis in the race for the NL's second wild card.

“We had that game through the first half of it,” said pitcher Jeff Locke, who was charged with five runs in 4 13 innings. “It was our game to win. But when you give another team chances to keep touching home plate, it's going to hurt you.”

Alvarez clubbed two home runs, including a three-run shot in the sixth that gave the Pirates a 9-5 lead. Rizzo also went deep twice. His second blast was his first career grand slam and put the Cubs ahead to stay.

Both of Alvarez's homers landed on Waveland Avenue beyond the left-field bleachers. It was his sixth career multi-homer game and his fourth this season.

“It's tough to win when it's a slugfest like that,” he said. “We've got to keep grinding.”

It seemed a bit of an odd choice in the sixth when manager Clint Hurdle bypassed veterans Jeff Karstens and Chris Leroux and instead called upon Rick van den Hurk to protect a 9-5 lead. All but one of van den Hurk's outings this year had come in the minor leagues. Although the right-hander fared well as a starter at Triple-A Indianapolis, his 5.99 career ERA in the majors was not a good omen.

“We talked about Karstens, but his history in the first inning (of an outing) has been a little sketchy,” Hurdle said. “We talked about Leroux. I wanted to bring in sinkerball guys from that point on. I went with a guy who I thought could give us an inning. I chose van den Hurk. It didn't work.”

The Cubs loaded the bases with no outs, so in came Jared Hughes (2-2), who was working his third game in a row and fourth in five days. On a 3-1 pitch, Rizzo smacked his grand slam into the right-field bleachers.

Hurdle was asked whether the bullpen is showing signs of late-season fatigue.

“I can't answer that,” he said. “You'd have to talk to those guys, but I don't know that any of them would tell you they're tired. With the numbers and the way things are playing out, you might think that. But the appearances aren't anywhere near red-line numbers. We're just not getting the job done.”

Starling Marte began the seventh with a triple, his third hit. Two outs later, he was still on third when Garrett Jones walked. With Gaby Sanchez at the plate, Jones broke for second. Reliever Jaye Chapman wheeled and stepped off the mound, ready to throw out Jones, but he had to hold the ball.

“Nobody covered second, so I kept going,” Jones said. “It's a play where I want to get in a rundown and try to get Marte to score. It didn't work out that way.”

Marte broke for home, and Chapman threw to catcher Wellington Castillo, who ran halfway up the line to tag out Marte.

“If Starling could've shown a little more patience, I think that play would've worked for us,” Hurdle said. “In the heat of the moment, he fired a little bit early.”

Marte said he was instructed to break when he did.

“They told me, ‘Go!' ” he said.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com.

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