Cumpton, bullpen combine to stifle Cubs

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, June 22, 2014, 5:24 p.m.

CHICAGO — Tony Watson did not get flustered Sunday when he bumped into the reigning Miss Nebraska in the dugout at Wrigley Field before the game against the Chicago Cubs.

“Actually, I know her father,” said Watson, who pitched at the University of Nebraska from 2005-07. “Small world, huh?”

It takes a lot to rattle Watson. The Cubs tried to do it with an eighth-inning rally, but Watson stood firm to help the Pirates escape with a 2-1 victory.

Pirates starter Brandon Cumpton tossed seven scoreless innings, matching his career high. The right-hander gave up just two hits, walked two and struck out four.

The Pirates did all their scoring in the third inning. Travis Snider hit a solo home run, and Josh Harrison delivered an RBI single off Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel (6-5).

When his pitch count reached the 70s in the sixth, Cumpton scuffled a bit. Hammel singled. Chris Coghlan walked on five pitches. Sweeney smoked a fly ball to center, but Andrew McCutchen hauled it in. Anthony Rizzo grounded out, ending the threat.

Cumpton worked a quick seventh then handed a 2-0 lead to the bullpen. Manager Clint Hurdle didn't think twice about pulling Cumpton, who threw 87 pitches, before the eighth.

“Lower pitch count, maybe,” Hurdle said. “But he was only 13 (pitches) from 100. And Watson's been very, very good.”

Going into the game, Watson hadn't allowed an earned run in his previous 24 23 innings. That seemed in jeopardy when the Cubs put runners on second and third with one out.

Pinch-hitter Wellington Castillo struck out on a foul tip. That left it up to Justin Ruggiano, who struck out against Watson the night before by taking a changeup for strike three.

“Whenever you face a guy on consecutive nights, in the back of their mind they're thinking and I'm thinking, too,” Watson said. “The way he took that first swing and fouled it straight back kind of told me he was waiting for the changeup. I wanted to stay hard in, be aggressive and stay with my strength.”

Watson threw five pitches to Ruggiano, all fastballs. The last one was a 95 mph four-seamer that went for a called third strike.

“That sequence was impressive,” Hurdle said. “Tony's got steely eyes out there. He knows what's at stake and just goes about his business. This guy, he could be a sniper.”

It was Watson's 19th hold, the most in the majors. The left-hander has a 0.77 ERA and has been scored upon in just three of his 35 outings.

Interim closer Mark Melancon gave up a run in the ninth but was bailed out by a good defensive play by shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Harrison.

With runners at the corners and one out, Nate Schierholtz snapped his bat as he hit a bouncer to the right side. Harrison dodged the flying chunk of wood and flipped the ball high, but Mercer was able to jump up and snag the ball, then land on the bag to get an out.

“It was a slow-developing play because of the broken bat,” Mercer said. “I didn't know what Josh was going to do at first, tag him or flip to me or whatever. A weird play, but it worked out.”

Gregory Polanco went 0 for 3, snapping his 11-game hitting streak. Still, an eighth-inning walk ensured Polanco has reached base in all 12 games of his big league career.

Polanco got his first stolen base, but it had a painful price. As Polanco slid, second baseman Darwin Barney stepped on his right hand. Polanco was briefly examined by an athletic trainer and remained in the game.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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