Jason Hammel, Emilio Bonifacio help Cubs avoid sweep
PITTSBURGH — The weary Chicago Cubs’ bullpen needed a break. New manager Rick Renteria needed a win.
Jason Hammel did a pretty solid job providing both.
The veteran right-hander pitched two-hit ball into the seventh inning and the Cubs edged the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 on Thursday for their first victory of the season.
“I didn’t think it was going to be such a relief but it is quite a relief,” Renteria said. “It’s nice to win. These games were tough. Taking the last one was very gratifying.”
Particularly considering the first two were so draining.
The Cubs lost in 10 innings on opening day and in 16 innings on Wednesday night — actually, early Thursday morning — in a 5-hour, 55-minute marathon that marked the longest Major League Baseball game (by time anyway) ever held in Pittsburgh.
Hammel and four relievers needed only 2:39 to help the Cubs avoid their first 0-3 start since 1997, when the club lost 14 straight to begin the season. The 31-year-old Hammel allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings with one walk and five strikeouts.
“He couldn’t have been any better,” Renteria said of Hammel. “He got to 97 pitches, got us into the seventh inning to help save the bullpen. He worked through a pretty good lineup pretty easily.”
The Cubs signed Hammel to a one-year, $6 million contract in February hoping he can provide some stability in the middle of the rotation. He was sharp in his Chicago debut, allowing singles in the first and third innings but otherwise keeping the Pirates in check.
“We played three great games here,” Hammel said. “There is no reason to hang our heads because we only won one. We played great but it looks like we’re going to be one-run warriors. You’ve got to win these type of games and we did. We got some timely hits, good defense and played well for 27 outs.”
Emilio Bonifacio went 2 for 4 and scored twice to continue his torrid start. The Chicago center fielder hit 11 for 16 (.688) during the opening three-game series. He is just the third player in history to record 11 hits in the first three games of the season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Mike Olt hit the first home run of his career for the Cubs.
Tony Sanchez hit a two-run single in the seventh for the Pirates but Pittsburgh couldn’t put together its first 3-0 start since 2007.
Wandy Rodriguez (0-1) struggled early in his first start in 10 months but settled down late. The left-hander allowed three runs on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced after missing most of 2013 with tightness in his left forearm.
“(Rodriguez) finished up very efficiently, very strong, a very good outing,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “A big confidence boost for him and a momentum builder.”
After slogging through 26 innings in the first two games of the series, things moved a bit more briskly on a cold, wet day at PNC Park thanks in part to a pair of pitchers who weren’t in the mood to nibble at the plate.
Hammel left the seventh after walking Neil Walker with two outs. Pittsburgh took advantage of another shaky performance from Chicago’s bullpen with Sanchez — who provided the walkoff hit on Wednesday — smacking a two-run single up the middle off Justin Grimm to pull the Pirates within a run.
Pittsburgh put the tying run on base leading off both the eighth and ninth, but Strop got Sanchez to line into a game-ending double play.
*Photo courtesy of Justin K. Aller/Getty Images