Ivan Nova pulls through as Pirates down Cubs
It was a muggy night, and Ivan Nova already had thrown 91 pitches, which was more than he'd tossed in eight of his previous 13 starts. The Pirates were clinging to a one-run lead against the Chicago Cubs in the seventh inning.
"They asked me if I wanted to keep going, and I said yes," Nova said.
With two outs and Jason Hayward at third, Nova fell behind 3-0 against left-handed hitter Jon Jay.
Nova took a deep breath. Earlier in the game, he'd given up a walk and a home run on two-seamers. Jay also laid off that pitch and gotten two balls.
What to throw? Was there ever any doubt?
He fired a two-seamer for a called strike one. Another for a called strike two. And then, a 97 mph four-seamer for a swinging strikeout.
Savoring the moment, the normally reserved Nova pumped both fists at his sides and let loose a yell.
"When have you ever seen him hit 97 mph?" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle mused later.
"The guys told me that," Nova said with a laugh. "I told them it's smart pitching. You don't need to be throwing 97-98 mph from the first pitch."
It was Nova's final pitch of a gritty, seven-inning outing. A sizzling defensive play in the eighth by Max Moroff and another dominant outing by Felipe Rivero wrapped up the Pirates' 4-3 victory against the Cubs.
"There was a lot of emotion going into that game," Nova said. "I feel like it was one of the best games I've played here in Pittsburgh. Right from the first inning, the fans were into the game. It was special to pitch in front of a crowd like that."
Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta was unstoppable the night he mowed down the Pirates in the 2015 National League wild-card game. On Saturday, Arrieta lacked that air of invincibility.
"I threw that (wild-card loss) in the trash a long time ago," Andrew McCutchen said. "When was that? '15? It's 2017 now."
Over his past five outings against the Pirates, Arrieta is 0-3 with a 7.81 ERA.
Since spring training, Arrieta has been bothered by a sore thumb. He is serving up home runs at an alarming rate. He leads the majors in wild pitches. And the first inning has been problematic.
The Pirates attacked each of Arrieta's vulnerable spots and chased him from the game after just 42⁄3 innings..
In the first inning, Adam Frazier reached on Arrieta's fielding error. With one out, Gregory Polanco mashed a slider over the Clemente Wall. It was his fourth home run of the season and his first since May 28.
Arrieta has allowed 12 runs in the first inning this season, which gives him a 7.71 ERA in that frame.
In the fifth, two unlikely events combined as the Cubs tied the score 2-2.
With two outs, Kyle Schwarber drew a five-pitch walk, Nova (7-4) missed with three two-seamers and a curve. It was the ninth walk issue by Nova in 96 innings this season.
Nova missed inside with a 2-2 sinker, but Arrieta pulled it over the left-field wall for a game-tying homer.
"I didn't think it was a bad pitch," Nova said. "The ball didn't do nothing, no movement, but it wasn't over the middle of the plate."
Jordy Mercer led off the fifth with a double, then went to third on a wild pitch. With one out, Frazier poked an RBI single through the drawn-in infield.
McCutchen's 12th homer gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead in the sixth.
The Cubs had two on and two out in the eighth when Addison Russell hit a odd-hop bouncer up the middle. Moroff, who'd entered the game two batters earlier, drifted over, snagged it and sent a smooth, hard throw that got Russell by a half-step.
"I love making that play," Moroff said. "I don't know how it looked, but it felt pretty routine."
Rivero got the final five outs for his third save. He needed only 17 pitches, which included a pitch-around walk to slugger Kris Bryant.
"My first two years, I was worried so much about the hitters," Rivero said. "This year, I don't worry so much. This is my third year, and I know them so well. I think I'm a little more mature with my pitching. … I think I'm confident just walking out of the bullpen."
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.