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By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Pirates entered their final series before the All-Star break against the Chicago Cubs tonight at PNC Park.  These two teams have not met expectations of their hometown fans to this point in the season.  While the Pirates are shocking the city, and the nation, with their great start to the year, the Cubs are, once again, an underachieving club that are keeping themselves out of the N.L. Central basement simply because of the Houston Astros’ putrid season thus far.
Tonight’s game was highly competitive, full of excitement, homeruns, big strikeouts, and timely hits on both sides of the ball.  But, as their seasons have gone to this point, the Pirates were just a little better tonight, outlasting the Cubs in a thriller on the North Shore by a final score of 7-4.
In all, the Pirates and Cubs used a total of eleven pitchers tonight, and they needed every pitch they got from each of them.  James McDonald lasted 5.2 innings, giving up three runs on five hits.  After giving up a solo homerun to Aramis Ramirez in the first inning, J-Mac pitched well until the sixth inning, when he ran into trouble against the latter part of the Cubs’ lineup.  After Ramirez and Marlon Byrd reached base, Clint Hurdle pulled McDonald and replaced him with Chris Resop.  Alfonso Soriano hammered a double in the left-centerfield gap, driving in two runs and giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead.
The Pirates first got on the board in the third inning, when Neil Walker beat out a tough throw from Cubs’ second baseman Darwin Barney.  Chase d’Arnaud and Andrew McCutchen scored on the play to give the Bucs a 2-0 lead at that point.  Cutch also had a homerun on the night, hammering a pitch to deep centerfield, tying the game, 3-3.
After the Cubs responded in the eighth with a run of their own, the Pirates came to bat in the bottom half trailing by one.  Walker reached on a fielder’s choice and Lyle Overbay singled to put runners on first and second.  Josh Harrison singled to shallow centerfield off and Walker beat the throw at home, tying the game, 4-4.  The next batter, Michael McKenry blasted his first career Major League homerun, a three-run shot over the left field wall, giving the Bucs a 7-4 lead, driving the sellout crowd at PNC Park into hysteria.
Of course, Joel Hanrahan closed out the game with ease, setting the Cubs down in order, to earn his 26th save in as many opportunities.  Daniel McCutchen picked up his third victory of the season.
Wow, what a game.  This was a well-played ballgame by both teams.  With a total of 11 runs and 23 hits, this certainly wasn’t the typical game we’re used to seeing from the Buccos.  Tonight, it was all about the role players stepping up in huge situations.  Harrison had three hits, while Alex Presley and Overbay had two hits a piece.  Walker had a hit and two RBI’s, and of course, the hero of the night, McKenry was 1-4 with 3 RBI’s. 
There were some very special moments tonight at PNC Park.  The energy in the ballpark, the enthusiasm from the fans, and the will and grit that the players showed on the field gave this Pirates’ fan chills.  Once again, the Buccos found a way to win a game that was up for grabs.  We’ve said it time and time again, but this team is growing up before our very eyes, game by game.  It was a nice response to the rough outing they had against the Astros on Wednesday, and they are right back in position to take another series away from an N.L. Central opponent.
With the victory tonight, the Pirates are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for second place and just one game behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers.  Kevin Correia will take the hill tomorrow night for our battlin’ Buccos, who will be looking for his 12th victory of the season.  Another huge crowd is expected for the game tomorrow, and a victory will put the Pirates to five games over that .500 mark.
Record Vs. Cubs: 5-2
Record Vs. N.L. Central: 19-11
Record At Home: 22-21
Overall Record: 46-42
And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!