The good Mitch Keller reappeared for the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday night, throwing six shutout innings, but didn’t figure in the decision as the Bucs dropped a 6-5 decision to the Chicago Cubs in 11 innings at Wrigley Field.
The game ended on a bizarre infield pop-up off the bat of Mt. Lebanon’s Ian Happ, which Pirates second baseman Wilmer Difo could not corral, allowing Sergio Alcantara to score from third base with the winning run.
Keller appeared on the way to a victory, leaving with a 3-0 lead after six innings, but reliever Chad Kuhl coughed up a five-spot in the seventh, and there went Keller’s win.
The Pirates did rally to tie the game in the ninth, with Michael Perez – mired in an 0-for-27 slump – delivering a two-run pinch single, but they failed to follow through with any more as Cole Tucker grounded into a double play to end the threat.
The Pirates put a runner at third in the person of Tucker with one out in the 10th but Tucker – going on contact — was thrown out at the plate on Bryan Reynolds’ chopper to first. Reynolds moved to second when Colin Moran walked but Jacob Stallings grounded out to end the inning.
The Cubs had runners at second and third and two out, but David Bednar fanned Austin Romine to end the threat.
Keller, who entered the game with 4-10 record and a 6.75 ERA, scattered six hits and did not walk a batter while striking out eight in what was arguably his best outing of the season, at least as far as the numbers were concerned.
The 25-year-old right-hander threw 89 pitches, 64 of which were strikes. Keller allowed two hits – singles by Rafael Ortega and Happ – in the first inning but never allowed more than one hit in any one inning after that before departing after the sixth.
Keller had a similar start two outings ago when he limited the Cardinals to six hits over five innings, but he walked one batter in that game and only struck out six.
Keller appeared to be on his way to his fifth win of the season, but it was not to be, as Kuhl gave up five runs in the seventh – all coming on a pair of homers.
Kuhl served up a three-run bomb to Ortega after giving up a single to Robinson Chirinos and a double to Alcantara. Then, after Ortega went yard, Kuhl yielded a base hit to Frank Schwindel before Happ followed with a two-run homer.
Kuhl entered the game with a 4.25 ERA in 72 innings and left it with a 4.85 mark for 72 1/3 innings of work. He gave up hits to six of the seven batters he faced.
The Pirates wasted no time jumping on Cubs starter Keegan Thompson, striking for three runs in the top of the first inning.
Ben Gamel drew a one-out walk and moved to third on a base hit by Reynolds. Moran then followed by going the opposite way over the wall in left-center field, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
But the Bucs managed just one hit over the next six innings and Cubs pitchers retired 17 straight batters prior to Reynolds’ one-out walk in the eighth.
That futility ended in the ninth, however. Stallings led off with a single and Difo reached on an infield hit. After Anthony Alford struck out, Hoy Park, pinch hitting for Phillip Evans, got aboard on catcher’s interference. That brought up Perez, who delivered his two-run game-tying single.