The Pirates and Cubs combined for 16 runs in the first six innings of a wild back-and-forth affair that finally saw the Pirates go ahead and stay ahead, 10-8, after having watched three previous leads disintegrate with an unusually ineffective start from Paul Maholm.
"They kept giving me leads and I kept giving them away," Maholm said. "The offense did a great job of picking me up and picking the team up."
Led by second baseman Freddy Sanchez's 6-for-6 night, the Bucs scored more runs against the Cubs than Pittsburgh had in three games against Chicago's South Side team all weekend in an Interleague set. Still, for much of the evening, this game looked anything but secure.
The Pirates' first-inning lead, gone when the Cubs matched it with one in the bottom half.
The two runs that Pittsburgh put up in the third -- courtesy of consecutive bases-loaded walks from Ryan Dempster -- those would be surpassed by Chicago's three in the inning, two of which came on Milton Bradley's double.
The Pirates answered Chicago's three-run third by scratching for three in the fourth, highlighted by Sanchez's two-run homer. That home run followed a first-inning double and third-inning single and put Sanchez a triple away from the cycle with five innings to go.
But cruelly on cue, Maholm handed the Cubs three right back, Bradley's two-run homer being the stinger in that frame.
"That's what they kept doing. They would battle back," Brandon Moss said. "They did a good job, but so did we."
Yes, that kind of night it was.
It was a night in which the Pirates came out on top of this three-hour, 36-minute affair despite wasting bases-loaded opportunities three separate times. Twice, the Pirates had such a situation with one out only to have no runs to show for it.
It was a night that saw Sanchez record six hits to become the first Pirates player to do so since Wally Backman on April 27, 1990. Sanchez added four runs scored and three driven in to his night's work, as well.
"Six hits is good for a three-game series," outfielder Nate McLouth said. "He had it in one night. It was neat to watch."
"That was awesome," Moss added. "I would love to have a night like that. What a night."
Every starting position player had at least one hit. Adam LaRoche, Andy LaRoche and Jason Jaramillo had three apiece, a first for the rookie catcher. The only position player not to reach base at least twice was Sunday's hero, Jack Wilson.
"Coming off a series where we scored four runs, it was nice to have some good at-bats and make their pitchers throw a lot of pitches," McLouth said. "We got some hits when we needed to."
But with Maholm knocked out after the fourth -- his shortest start since a two-inning on outing, also against the Cubs, on Sept. 21, 2007 -- they would need the hits to keep falling. The sixth inning would finally be the decisive one, putting Pittsburgh ahead again. And this time, ahead for good.
Again, it was Sanchez who got things going with a one-out single. Three pitches later, McLouth took reliever Neal Cotts deep into the right-field seats. The homer was a team-high eighth for McLouth, and also snapped his 0-for-12 skid.
"I just got a good pitch and hit it," McLouth said. "I'm trying to be a little more consistent and just happened to get a good pitch and didn't miss it."
Andy LaRoche, now owner of a 10-game hitting streak, then helped the Pirates tack on an insurance run when he drove in older brother Adam with a two-out double that Bradley nearly caught on a diving attempt.
A seventh-inning RBI single by Sanchez tacked on the tenth run, a total that would be just enough despite Chicago's best effort in the final few frames.
"Obviously it felt good," Sanchez said of his career day. "It felt even better since we got the win. We battled and they battled. It wouldn't have been the same if we hadn't pulled out the win."
The 18 hits bettered the Pirates' previous season high by one. And the 10 runs certainly put to rest those whispers about a slumping offense.
Not all would be well at Wrigley Field on Monday, though. Charged with trying to convert his 10th save of the season, closer Matt Capps was struck in the right elbow on a line drive with one out in the ninth. He left the game and headed to Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital for X-rays soon after.
Results of those X-rays are expected on Tuesday.
And while he wasn't knocked out of the game in a similar fashion, Maholm's early exit was certainly unusual. In a start that began with a 12-pitch walk to outfielder Alfonso Soriano, Maholm just simply never found his command.
"I'd say overall it was just me not executing and falling behind," he said after giving up seven runs for the second time this year. "I didn't have a put-away pitch, or even a good sinker to get a groundball. My breaking ball wasn't there for a strike whenever I needed it. My changeup is too hard. I've just got to get back into sync and getting some early groundballs and easy outs."
Maholm relinquished the lead three different times and pitched without his notable efficiency. He needed 93 pitches to get through four innings and left the game in line for his second loss of the year.
However, the Pirates' comeback prevented that and made a winner of Tom Gorzelanny. Reliever Sean Burnett closed the door for Capps, and in doing so, recorded his first big league save.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less