Pirates off to good start in Chicago

CHICAGO — Last season’s division rivalry with the Chicago Cubs provided few, if any, good memories for Pittsburgh Pirates, especially at Wrigley Field.

Things are off to a much better start this time around.

David Freese and Francisco Cervelli each drove in two runs to back Gerrit Cole, and the Pirates held off the Cubs 4-2 Friday to end a four-game skid.

The Pirates were 4-14 against the World Series champion Cubs in 2016, and won just once in Chicago.

“They’re a good team, but we don’t take a backseat to anyone,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “You got to love playing here. We were 1-8 here last year. We’re well aware of that. That was last year. This year we’ll do something different.”

The victory was not without its drama. The Cubs nearly rallied late, loading the bases in both the eighth and ninth innings.

Willson Contreras grounded out to end the first threat, and Pirates closer Tony Watson got Ben Zobrist on a game-ending grounder for his third save.

“We put in ourselves in a position to get a chance in the last few innings to tie the game, at least,” Zobrist said. “I like how we battled late in the game.”

Cole (1-1) allowed two runs in six innings, striking out five. He outpitched Kyle Hendricks (1-1), who surrendered three runs in five-plus innings after allowing just one run during three wins against Pittsburgh last year.

Freese doubled twice and scored two runs. The 33-year-old third baseman has reached base safely in 12 of his last 15 plate appearances, and is hitting .440 on the young season.

“He’s fun to watch,” Hurdle said. “Good takes, not firing early, seeing pitches, staying in the fight, fouling off good pitcher’s pitches. And then, when the ball is hit, it’s hit all over the park. He’s a professional player.”

The Pirates trailed 2-1 in the sixth when Freese hit a tying single and Cervelli had a two-run double.

Kyle Schwarber and Zobrist each had RBI singles, but the Cubs managed only two hits past the fifth inning.

Watson retired the first two batters in the ninth before a walk, an error by Freese at third base and a hit batter loaded the bases. Zobrist grounded out to shortstop to finish it.

RUNNING WILD

Cervelli is now 0 for 13 on catching base stealers this season after Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell each logged a stolen base Friday. Cervelli owned a 19.3 caught stealing percentage last season, ranking 20th of 23 qualifying catchers.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Cole’s win Friday was his seventh at Wrigley Field in his career — by far the most at any stadium outside of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. He owns a 2.29 ERA in 51 innings at the Friendly Confines, and has yet to surrender a home run.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: RHP Hector Rondon returned to action with a scoreless inning after injuring his knee in Wednesday’s loss to Los Angeles. … Activated LHP Brian Duensing off of the 10-day disabled list and placed RHP Carl Edwards Jr. on the bereavement list Friday. Duensing, 34, experienced lower back tightness during spring training and made two rehab outings for Triple-A Iowa, throwing three scoreless innings.

UP NEXT

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00 ERA) makes his first career appearance against the Cubs. The 23-year-old failed to escape the second inning in his season debut Monday against Cincinnati.

Cubs: RHP Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.08) owns a career 2.20 ERA in 49 starts at Wrigley Field, but faces a Pirates lineup that has tagged the former Cy Young winner for at least six runs in each of their last three meetings.

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