Cubs bullpen falters as Pirates complete sweep at Wrigley
CHICAGO — Jameson Taillon pitched a gem for six innings Sunday. In the seventh, the Chicago Cubs threatened to turn it into an eyesore.
One run was in, and the bases were loaded. With one out, Taillon looked up and saw slugger Kris Bryant. It's the kind of situation that gives pitching coaches heartburn.
Taillon had a different reaction.
“It was fun,” Taillon said. “It got really loud. The fans were super into it. Heart of the lineup (coming up), reigning MVP (at the plate). I was just like, ‘All right. Let's dance.' ”
So, Taillon turned up his music — a wicked two-seamer and jaw-dropping curveball.
Bryant rolled a fielder's choice grounder. Anthony Rizzo popped out. Inning over.
“There are going to be times in the future, I'm sure, when those big boys in the middle of their lineup will get me,” Taillon said. “But, today, I was able to make some pitches.”
The Pirates went on to score three runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth and stunned the Cubs, 6-1.
Taillon was brilliant. Relievers Felipe Rivero and Wade LeBlanc were perfect. And the offense finally came through, including a redemptive RBI single by Jordy Mercer and Adam Frazier's three-run homer.
With their first three three-game sweep in Chicago since September 2014, the Pirates — who last year went 1-8 at Wrigley Field — sent a message to the defending World Series champs.
“It was important for us to come in here and play good baseball,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn't play well here last year. They played really well. You want to come back and get in a better competitive state.”
The Pirates arrived here lugging a four-game losing streak. They were buoyant as they boarded their chartered plane for St. Louis.
“It's crazy. We've either gotten swept or we've swept so far this season,” Mercer said. “To get three on the road in the division … it doesn't matter who you're playing, it's pretty nice.”
In the series, the Pirates outscored the Cubs, 18-10. They scored 12 of those runs against Chicago's bullpen.
Cubs left-hander Jon Lester was dominant for seven innings. Some misfires with the running game — Mercer and Josh Harrison were caught stealing, David Freese was picked off first base — also stymied the Pirates.
“We didn't boo-boo lip,” Hurdle said, using his favorite euphemism for pouting. “We just kept playing and were able to do some things late.”
Called upon to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Cubs reliever Koji Uehara instead caused havoc.
John Jaso walked. Adam Frazier doubled to left. Josh Bell walked and was replaced by pinch runner Alen Hanson. That brought up Mercer, whose fielding error in the seventh set up the Cubs' lone run.
“You look for something to swing momentum back on our side,” Mercer said. “Yeah, I gave one away. But I wanted to keep the momentum going.”
Mercer looped a 1-1 splitter into shallow center field for a game-tying single. Hector Rondon replaced Uehara.
With one out and the bases still loaded, Andrew McCutchen hit a bouncer to first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Hanson flew to the plate and slid around catcher Willson Contreras' leg with the go-ahead run.
“The speed plays,” Hurdle said. “It's one of the reasons Hanson is here. We're all in the game aware of it when somebody can run. Maybe that speed makes somebody hurry a throw.”
Mercer scored on a throwing error to make it 3-1. In the eighth, Frazier hit his first homer of the season — a three-run bolt that traveled 432 feet to right-center field.
The run against Taillon was unearned, so he lowered his ERA to 0.90 through three starts. He threw a career-high 108 pitches.
In one stretch, he struck out five of 10 batters — with the curve being the put-away pitch each time.
“That's almost the old high school hook,” Hurdle said, smiling. “Like when your coach used to tell you, ‘He's throwing a drop.' It's top to bottom, you don't see a lot of that. Fun to watch.”
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.