Pirates slug past Cubs in Skenes debut
Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

Pirates slug past Cubs in Skenes debut

by - Senior Writer -

PITTSBURGH - It's been a long time since PNC Park was filled to the brim and had a playoff-type atmosphere. That happens when the game's top pitching prospect, Paul Skenes, comes to town as he made his Pittsburgh Pirates (18-22) debut against the Chicago Cubs (23-17) on Saturday. Armed with a triple-digit heater and some of the best stuff in the game, last year's top pick in the MLB draft has left quite an impression as he blazed his way through the minor leagues.

For the most part, Skenes was as good as advertised, as he struck out seven Cubs across 4 1/3 innings of work. Had it not been for a pitch count limited to under 75 pitches, he would have won his debut as the Pirates belted five homers in their 10-9 victory. Any time you can score all your runs via the long ball, you will be in good shape, but teams like manufacturing runs in other ways.

Three of those five homers came against the Cubs starter Justin Steele, who is still rounding into form after missing more than a month due to a hamstring injury. Steele wasn't as sharp as he would've liked, walking two and striking out three while also serving up three homers in four innings. The result was six earned runs allowed in what was a no-decision for him.

Despite his struggles, Steele managed to go pitch for pitch with Skenes during the first two innings. He walked Andrew McCutchen to lead off the game before retiring seven straight batters. It was in the bottom of the third when things began to go south for Steele, as this was just the second time in his career that he allowed more than two homers in a start.

After back-to-back singles from Michael A. Taylor and Andrew McCutchen, Steele was on the verge of working out of the inning as the Pirates had two outs in the inning. That was until Connor Joe got into one and drove it over the Center Field fence to make things 3-0. Oneil Cruz added a homer a few pitches later as the Pirates went back-to-back to build a 4-0 lead.

The Cubs had a chance to break through in the second inning only to come away empty-handed, but the Nico Hoerner solo blast in the fourth got the Cubs on the board and seemed to awaken their offense. Home runs continued to be the strength of the Pirates at the bottom of the fourth, with Yasmani Grandal picking up a single before coming home on the Taylor homer, and the Pirates opened up a 6-1 lead.

As the fifth inning got underway, the clouds began to roll in as it was a matter of when, not if, the bad weather was coming. Mike Tauchman started the fifth with a leadoff double before a Seiya Suzuki infield single put a pair of runners on with no outs. That was the end of the road for Skense as Kyle Nichols replaced him.

Talk about a strange outing from the right-hander. What started with a pair of strikeouts was followed by a hit-by-pitch to Ian Happ as the Cubs had the bases loaded with two outs. That is when the bottom completely fell off for Nichols, who uncorked 12 consecutive balls, resulting in three bases-loaded walks to Hoerner, Michael Busch, and Miles Mastrobuoni as the Cubs pulled within 6-4.

Following a pitching change, Yan Gomes worked his first walk of the season to bring home another run as the Cubs were within 6-5. Given a chance to break things open, Tauchman finally put the ball in play, resulting in an infield single as the Cubs tied things up 6-6, and the heavy rain began to fall.

Once the rain let up and the field was playable again, the Cubs came back out with the bases loaded and capped off their seven-run fifth inning with two more bases-loaded walks to give the Cubs the lead for the first time, 8-6. With the lead for the first time, Craig Counsell knew it would come down to his bullpen, with Keegan Thompson as the first one to get the call.

For the most part, Thompson was able to get the job done, but with two on and two outs, the long ball proved costly again as Grandal took Thompson deep to put the Pirates back in front for good 9-8. McCutchen made it five homers for the Pirates to begin the bottom half of the seventh as he took Richard Lovelady deep to extend the Pirates lead to 10-8. That would go down as the winning run, and the Cubs offense would have one last crack to get even late.

After failing to score on Aroldis Chapman despite putting a pair of runners on base, the Cubs faced an even tougher test as David Bednar entered the game to close things out. Things got off to a great start, with Mastrobuoni leading the ninth off with a double before advancing to third place on the Gomes single. Throw in the Tauchman sacrifice fly, and the Cubs were within 10-9 with the tying runner still on base.

Pete Crow-Armstrong represented the tying run and took it upon himself to get into scoring position by stealing second. He wouldn't get any closer as Bednar settled in to retire both Suzuki and Bellinger to end the game and lifted the Pirates to the 10-9 win.

The Cubs had 10 hits in the game, with Mastrobuoni leading the way with three. Tauchman and Suzuki added two hits while the Cubs also worked nine walks in the loss.

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