The evening storm that blew through the region Tuesday considerably cooled what had been a hot, humid day.
It had little effect, though, on the simmering Adam Frazier – nor on the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Frazier homered and went 4 for 4 a day after tying a major-league record with four doubles, six pitchers combined to largely shut down Chicago and the Pirates won for the fifth time over their past seven games, 5-1 against the Cubs.
Frazier has hit leadoff the past two days after a month-plus banishment to the bottom of the order. It’s safe to say he’s responded: Frazier is 9 for 10 and carries a seven-hits-in-seven-at-bats streak into Wednesday.
“I feel comfortable right now hitting,” the second baseman said in his usual understated, Georgia manner. “(Hitting coach Rick Eckstein) and I have been working on it the past few days, and I feel like I am on to something. Whether it’s leading off or it doesn’t really matter – ‘Just you and the pitcher, go hit.’”
— Christopher Horner (@Hornerfoto1) July 3, 2019
The Pirates (41-43) pulled to within four games of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers and to within three games of the Cubs, who ended the day holding the second wild-card spot.
The Pirates have beaten the Cubs – a thorn in their side in recent years – by an aggregate score of 23-6 over the first two games of this pivotal series that leads into next week’s All-star break.
Tuesday’s offensive output was dwarfed by Monday’s 23-hit barrage, but the Pirates did manage their 13th first-inning run over their past seven games when Frazier scored on a Josh Bell sacrifice fly.
That would be all the Pirates would need on an evening in which they came within one out of getting their sixth shutout; closer Felipe Vazquez was tagged for two hits and a walk in a rare non-save situation.
Chicago has had all kinds of trouble with Pirates hitters so far this series, none moreso than Frazier. Frazier went 5 for 6 Monday and has 17 total bases, six runs and six RBIs in the first two games of this series.
“Just bring it into the zone and attack the baseball,” Frazier said of his current mindset, “instead of being attacked by the baseball. Because I had a lot of that this year.”
He had two singles, a double and a three-run homer Tuesday, the latter coming in the fourth inning with Kevin Newman and pinch-hitter Steven Brault aboard. Frazier’s homer went over the Clemente Wall off a 1-2 pitch from Mike Montgomery, the first Frazier homer of the season off a lefty and his fourth overall.
The most recent time a Pirates player had seven consecutive hits was more than a decade ago: Freddy Sanchez from May 25-26, 2009.
“What’s happening right now… is really special, and it’s really good,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Frazier. “And I’m really proud of him. We’re proud of him. Talking about a shot in the arm to start off the series the last two nights, what is he now, 9 for 10? Crazy. Really good. Special.”
Frazier’s home run came in the bottom of the inning that began after a 2-hour, 5-minute rain delay that began after almost exactly an hour of playing.
The rain ruined what had all the makings of another very strong start from Joe Musgrove, who had allowed one run on 14 hits and no walks in 13 innings over his previous two outings. Musgrove induced six swinging strikes and had only nine balls among his 34 pitches, allowing one hit and no walks with four strikeouts in his three innings.
“It’s a bummer, man,” said Musgrove, a native of seemingly always-sunny San Diego. “We only get so many starts a year, so to get one taken away by the rain is tough. But that’s what you get when you play here.”
But over the five innings after Musgrove’s forced exit, Francisco Liriano, Richard Rodriguez, Clay Holmes and Kyle Crick combined to limit the Cubs to four baserunners. Holmes (a perfect sixth and seventh with four strikeouts) was the only reliever to throw multiple innings.
“Tonight that was pretty special,” Hurdle said of the bullpen. “Holmes, that was probably as good as we’ve seen him.”
Starling Marte went 2 for 4 with an RBI double for the Pirates, who have won six consecutive home games to even their PNC Park record this season at 19-19.
Chicago has lost four of its past five and six of its past eight.