Alvarez, Pirates overcome a 4-run deficit to earn win over Cubs
CHICAGO — The way Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sees it, Pedro Alvarez never has been better.
Look past the .229 batting average, because it doesn't really tell the story. Focus instead on Alvarez's gaudy 1.027 on-base plus slugging percentage. Take note of his patience and pitch selection. Marvel at his power to all fields.
“This is the best place he's been in since I've been here,” Hurdle said Thursday after Alvarez's three-run homer lifted the Pirates to an improbable 5-4 victory against the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates erased a four-run deficit by scoring five times in the seventh inning. It started with a two-run, pinch-hit homer by Travis Snider.
After Starling Marte singled and Andrew McCutchen walked, the Cubs brought in left-handed reliever James Russell to face Alvarez.
“I was just trying to be ready to hit as soon as I stepped in the box,” Alvarez said. “Sometimes, that first pitch is the best one you're going to see.”
In this case, it was.
Alvarez's homer traveled 446 feet to center field, crash-landing above the batter's eye. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, it's the longest blast at Wrigley Field since a 449-foot shot Sept. 16, 2012.
Alvarez hit that one, too.
Through nine games, Alvarez has gone deep five times. He already has a pair of two-homer games — something no other Pirates slugger has done so early in a season.
Still, Hurdle resents the notion that Alvarez's only skill is his mighty swing.
“That is so blind,” Hurdle said. “He's gotten better defensively. He runs the bases as good as anybody. And the bat's started to pick up and do some impactful things.”
Alvarez smiled when someone asked if he's playing at his highest level.
“I'm getting there,” Alvarez said. “I'm pleased with the progress I've made so far.”
Thursday's win was simultaneously sloppy and stirring. The Pirates made two fielding errors and a couple of mental gaffes and wasted a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the third inning.
The Pirates handed the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Emilio Bonifacio tapped the ball toward the mound. Gerrit Cole bobbled it for an error.
With Ryan Kalish at the plate, Bonifacio took off for second base. Catcher Tony Sanchez's throw was low and very wide, giving shortstop Clint Barmes no chance, and Bonifacio went to third. When McCutchen overthrew the cutoff man, Bonifacio was able to score standing up.
The Cubs scored three runs in a freaky fourth inning. Rizzo singled and went to third on Nate Schierholtz's single. Schierholtz stole second without drawing a throw.
With one out, Starlin Castro singled to left through a drawn-in infield. A wild pitch let Schierholtz score and moved Castro to second base. With two outs, Castillo single to left and Castro scored.
Notes: Right-hander Jameson Taillon had Tommy John surgery Wednesday and will begin his rehab in a few days in Bradenton, Fla. The typical return time from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery is 12-18 months. Taillon, 22, began this season as the Pirates' top-rated pitcher prospect. ... Reliever Vin Mazzaro accepted his outright assignment and was sent to Low-A Jamestown. The Pirates expect to reassign the right-hander to Triple-A Indianapolis in the next few days. Mazzaro was designated for assignment March 29 to open a spot on the 40-man roster for first baseman Travis Ishikawa.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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