Pirates lose series opener to Cubs, 6-3

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, June 20, 2014, 7:18 p.m.

CHICAGO — Starlin Castro is locked in on Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton.

Castro's three-run homer in the third inning Friday was the decisive blow in the Chicago Cubs' 6-3 win over the Pirates.

This is Morton's seventh year in the majors, but Castro is the only batter with three career homers off him. All three home runs came in a span of 10 at-bats this season.

“I've only given up six home runs this year, and three of them have been to him,” Morton said. “He's hit me tough.”

In his career, Castro is batting .444 (12 for 27) against Morton. On April 8, Castro smacked a three-run homer and a solo shot off him.

“One was a four-seamer that was up-up,” Morton said. “The other was a curveball that I hung. The one today was probably the best location and the best pitch of those three, but he still hit it.”

Morton (4-8) pitched six innings and allowed a season-high six runs and eight hits. It was the most earned runs Morton had allowed in a start since giving up six against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 29, 2011.

“He gave us volume and length, which we sorely needed, pitching almost 13 innings out of the bullpen the last two days,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Cubs starter Edwin Jackson (5-7) served up Jordy Mercer's home run in the fifth. The Pirates managed just two hits, both infield singles, over the final four innings.

The controversial Experimental Rule 7.13 kicked the Pirates in the teeth again in the second inning.

With two outs and Ike Davis on second base, Pedro Alvarez hit a line-drive single. Right fielder Nate Schierholtz played the ball on one hop and fired it to the cutoff man, first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Third base coach Nick Leyva wisely stopped Davis at third. But Alvarez made a wide turn toward second and was stunned to see Rizzo holding the ball. With Alvarez in a rundown, Davis broke for home.

Camped in front of the plate, catcher John Baker got the ball and tagged Davis out. The Pirates argued that Baker illegally blocked the plate and the umpires agreed to a second look. After a 2 12-minute review, the MLB control center upheld the out call.

Did Davis see any part of home plate as he ran toward Baker?

“I could see it behind him,” Davis said, laughing. “He never moved. He stood in the line the whole time, caught it, then dropped a knee. He never gave me a (lane). I just don't understand the rule. I don't think anyone does anymore.”

Morton wrestled a bit with his control and with plate umpire Bob Davidson's strike zone in the third inning. The Cubs parlayed that into a 5-0 lead.

With one out, Jackson and Luis Valbuena hit back-to-back singles. Morton got ahead 0-2 against Chris Coghlan, then missed with a couple of borderline pitches. Coghlan walked, loading the bases.

Rizzo lashed a two-run double on a 2-2 curveball.

With an 0-2 count to Castro, Morton tried another curveball. Castro sent it into the left-field bleachers.

“I'd like to have that ball down a little bit more,” Morton said. “I don't think it was a bad pitch, but it was a bad pitch to him in that situation. With two strikes, I've got to bury it.”

Jackson walked the first two batters in the fifth, Josh Harrison and Alvarez, on eight pitches. Facing Jordy Mercer, Jackson switched to sliders. Mercer pounced on a 2-2 slider and smacked a three-run homer to left.

“When I've faced him before, he's thrown a lot of sliders,” Mercer said. “So, I went up there thinking to look for a slider. It was his best pitch today, and he threw it a lot.”

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