Rare triple play sparks Pirates' comeback victory over Cubs
Shoddy defense cost the Pirates two runs Sunday and created the stunning possibility of a second straight loss against the woeful Chicago Cubs.
So it was at once absurd and sublime that the game turned on a triple play.
“You could feel the momentum change,” said third baseman Josh Harrison, who triggered the play by snagging a well-struck grounder.
The Pirates were trailing by three runs when they pulled off the rare defensive gem in the fourth inning. They scored a run in the bottom of the fourth, then got six more in the fifth to stun the Cubs, 7-3.
“It was a huge play,” first baseman Andrew Lambo said. “J-Hay fired everybody up. It got everybody pumped.”
Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez (12-7) was not sharp and struggled from the start. In the second inning, he threw 29 pitches — 15 of them balls — and made a costly throwing error.
Luis Valbuena and Mike Olt walked. With one out, Matt Szczur hit a bouncer to the left side.
Although he had no chance to get Szczur at first base, Volquez made a spinning, off-balance throw.
The ball flew over Lambo's head, allowing Valbuena to score. John Baker's sacrifice fly to left scored Olt to make it 2-0.
With one out in the third, Javier Baez reached on an infield single. Baez stole second and continued to third base when Russell Martin's throw sailed into center field. Baez scored another unearned run on Chris Coghlan's sacrifice fly.
“It was tough for me to get loose and find my rhythm in the first two innings,” Volquez said.
With the Cubs leading 3-0, Chris Valaika opened the fourth inning with a double to center field. Olt drew a full-count walk.
In desperate need of a ground ball, Volquez threw a first-pitch sinker to Matt Szczur. The Cubs rookie obliged with a hard grounder to Harrison, who was playing a step in and near the line.
“Right away, I thought triple play,” Harrison said.
“It was hit hard enough to my right. I knew for sure at least a double play.”
Harrison backhanded the ball and stepped on third to force Valaika, then threw to second baseman Neil Walker to get Olt. Walker relayed the ball to Lambo, who was made his first start at first base in the majors.
“That's when it's nice to be the first baseman,” manager Clint Hurdle joked. “You do the least amount of work.”
Szczur was out by half a step.
“The fastest guy we have, too,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “Matt hit it right on the nose, and Harrison made a really nice play. Just one of those things.
“If (the ball is) to his left, maybe it gets through. Maybe it goes over his head or any number of things. But it worked out for them.”
It was the first triple play turned by the Pirates since April 12, 2009, against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. It was the Pirates' first triple play in Pittsburgh since Aug. 10, 1993, against the St. Louis Cardinals at Three Rivers Stadium.
“Really cool,” Walker said. “It's something I'd never been part of at any level.”
Cubs right-hander Jacob Turner (5-10) retired 10 of the first 12 batters, getting five ground-ball outs along the way. Walker broke through with a solo homer in the fourth inning.
Walker's 20 home runs are the most in a season by a Pirates second baseman. He surpassed Bill Mazeroski, who went deep 19 times in 1958.
“I'm humbled just to be in the same breath as the people on the list,” Walker said. “I haven't heard from Maz in a while because he's got some personal things going on. But he usually comes around in September, so hopefully this month, we'll get a chance to see him.”