Andy LaRoche's game-saver and Bobby Crosby's game-winner keyed the decisive eighth inning and lifted Pittsburgh to a 2-1 win in a Memorial Day contest at PNC Park. A total of 20,235 fans were in attendance, which included the largest walk-up total (4,459) for a game without a ticket promotion this season.
"Today, Pirates fans literally willed the club to a much-needed win at PNC Park," president Frank Coonelly said afterward. "Our fans' faith and support is much appreciated by the players and the entire organization."
The crowd didn't see the Pirates entirely solve their offensive issues, as the club finished with fewer than 10 hits for the sixth straight game. But in a much-welcomed change from recent days, Pittsburgh managed to get some production in a key situation.
A stellar effort by starter Ross Ohlendorf kept the game close, and Garrett Jones' sixth-inning blast over the Clemente Wall negated the only run scored off Ohlendorf in seven innings. Jones, who had largely avoided the recent team-wide offensive woes, sparked the go-ahead rally as well with a one-out double off reliever Sean Marshall in the eighth.
"I knew he had a good curveball, so I was looking for a curveball, something up," said Jones, who has hit .319 in his last 19 games. "It was a little away, but I still feel like I got a good part of the bat on it and was able to drive it out in the outfield."
Marshall bounced back to record the second out of the inning before intentionally walking Ryan Doumit. Though Jeff Clement entered the afternoon with six hits in his last 17 at-bats, manager John Russell summoned him back from the on-deck circle and sent out the right-handed-hitting Crosby instead.
"We thought Bobby would be a little better suited," Russell said of the matchup against the Chicago lefty. "It makes us look pretty good because it worked out."
It did, as Crosby eventually lined a 3-2 pitch into center to give Pittsburgh the 2-1 lead. The hit was the only one the Pirates had with a runner in scoring position all day and gave the utility infielder his first RBI off the bench this season.
"That's what I've been working on all year," Crosby said of the pinch-hit situation. "That's my role right now. I try to hone it as best I can. I try to be prepared for when I'm called on."
Crosby's game-winner came a half-inning after LaRoche made the defensive gem of the game. With Marlon Byrd on third and two out, reliever Evan Meek induced a short chopper down the third-base line off the bat of Mike Fontenot.
LaRoche watched the ball stay straight on the first two hops and figured he couldn't risk letting it go and hoping it rolled foul. So ... "I just had to try to do what I could to make the play," he said.
Charging, LaRoche make a backhanded grab and then an off-balance throw to first. His throw beat Fontenot by only inches, preventing the Cubs from scoring the go-ahead run.
"Unbelievable," Ohlendorf said afterward. "He makes those kinds of plays."
"That was outstanding," added Russell.
Meek, the benefactor of the inning-ending play, let out a "That a boy!" as he walked back into the dugout.
"He had to do everything perfect to make that play," said Meek, who picked up the win. "It was a tough, tough one. There were a lot of great things that happened today, but having that play kind of saved us. It was awesome."
The run-saving play also provided LaRoche a bit of solace after a forgettable day at the plate. In both the third and fifth innings, the third baseman came up with two runners on. Both times, he promptly ended the inning.
Though Ohlendorf was on the bench for all the eighth-inning drama, credit the righty with putting the Pirates in position to end what was the team's second-longest losing streak of their season. In his lengthiest start since returning from the disabled list, Ohlendorf notched a season-best six strikeouts. He very well might have kept the Cubs off the scoreboard, too, had Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Church not missed a fly ball due to a miscommunication in the second.
The key for Ohlendorf's success? He finally allowed himself to relax, and, in turn, trusted himself.
"That was a big difference because then I could throw to contact," Ohlendorf said. "That allowed my body to do what it knows to do. When you're pitching well, it's easier to relax and have confidence in yourself."
That also translated into a more consistent delivery for the right-hander, who had worked specifically on that between starts. Ohlendorf also relied more heavily than usual on his changeup, a pitch that caught an already struggling Chicago offense off guard.
"He threw a little harder slider and he mixed in some changeups," noted Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee. "He kind of went away from his sinker and pitched a little different today."
Though Ohlendorf is still in search of his first victory of the season, Monday's outing, coupled with a strong finish in his last one, has the Pirates believing that Ohlendorf is hitting his stride for the first time this season. He missed more than a month early on because of a back injury.
As for the club, the good news is that the Pirates still have two games remaining against the Cubs this week. Pittsburgh has won six of seven between the two teams this season.
"We have had some success against Chicago," Russell said, "so hopefully we'll build off that."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less