Everything was going according to plan. The Pirates were about to waste another great start and cut their Rocker Number to two. But the Cubs just had to play spoiler and lose the game, 3-2.
Steven Brault did the outstanding start portion perfectly, unlike last time when he saw it the whole way through to a successful end. He went seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits and three walks. Well, he also hit two guys, but they were Cubs, so . . . .
The two hit batsmen actually gave the Cubs their only near-rally against Brault. They both came at the start of the fourth inning, but the Pirates turned an around-the-horn double play (somebody forgot to tell the Cubs not to hit the ball to Ke’Bryan Hayes — gotta make a note about that) and Brault fanned Kyle Schwarber. He struck out six in the game.
The Pirates even gave Brault a lead. Not a big one, of course. In the second, Gregory Polanco singled with two out, went to second on a wild pitch and scored when Erik Gonzalez lined a double down the right-field line. In the fifth, Polanco led off with a walk and, one out later, chugged and chugged around to score on another double, this one by Adam Frazier. That put the Bucs up, 2-0.
Brault left after seven innings and 94 pitches. For a minute in the eighth, it looked like the Pirates weren’t going to follow the script. Chris Stratton got two out, then recovered to give up a single to Willson Contreras. Derek Shelton went to Sam Howard to face the lefty Anthony Rizzo. Howard threw two sliders well outside, then cleverly threw the same pitch in the same location, only on the corner. Rizzo, somehow not caught off guard by seeing the same pitch three straight times, belted it into the stands in right to tie the game. Everything was on track.
Richard Rodriguez threw a scoreless ninth and the Cubs were almost into extra innings, where the Pirates would be fatally handicapped by having a free runner in scoring position every inning. The Cubs even put in a reliever with an ERA of 7.04 to pitch the ninth, so the Pirates should have been easy pickings. But with one out, Jacob Stallings — who has an unfortunate habit of doing walkoff-type stuff — upset the apple cart and drilled his third home run of the year to left. The Pirates won, 3-2, and their quest for a Rockin’ draft hit a roadblock.