Gerrit Cole has kicked it into another gear.
Pittsburgh rode a pair of solo home runs to a 2-1 victory over Chicago Monday and clinched its first postseason berth since 1992.
"The people of Pittsburgh have been waiting a long time," second baseman Neil Walker said.
Walker put the Pirates (90-67) on top with a first-inning homer, his fourth in five games, and after the Cubs (65-92) tied it in the bottom of the eighth, Starling Marte provided the go-ahead run with his shot.
Closer Jason Grilli , with a .357 average against since his return from a strained right forearm, struggled, allowing a walk and a single, but Nate Schierholtz was thrown out trying to score from first on Ryan Sweeney 's single.
"Even though I didn't lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are," said Andrew McCutchen , whose throw from center led to Schierholtz getting nailed at the plate. "You get sick and tired of hearing that. It's awesome that there won't be any questions anymore. The question is are we going to be able to go farther."
Cincinnati also won in dramatic fashion, walking off against the Mets in 10 innings to remain in a tie with Pittsburgh.
The Reds and Pirates are both two games behind Central-leading St. Louis.
Cole (9-7, 3.23 ERA) has been a solid addition to Pittsburgh's rotation since his major league debut in June, but he's been particularly good lately. He's won each of his last three starts, allowing two runs in 20 innings with 28 strikeouts.
"He continues to grow right in front of our eyes," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The right-hander gave up a run and four hits, striking out a career-high 12 in a 10-1 victory over San Diego on Thursday.
"We just couldn't get to the fastball," San Diego manager Bud Black said. "I think we knew it was coming but he located some pitches, threw down and away well. He pitched in. He pitched up (and) mixed it up a little bit with the slider and the changeup."
Cole, who will face the Cubs for the second time in 11 days Tuesday, pitched seven one-run innings against them in a 2-1 victory Sept. 14.
Chicago's Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52) was faring similarly well in his rookie season, as he allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven straight starts before Milwaukee roughed him up for six runs in four innings of a 7-0 loss Wednesday.
Rusin, who had yielded three home runs in his prior 58 innings, surrendered two Wednesday, including Sean Halton 's first-inning grand slam."When I needed to make a pitch, I left it up and they hit it out of the yard," Rusin said. "Those are the games you've just got to learn from. Just keep the ball down is what I keep telling myself. But that first inning really hurt the team. Just took the life out of us."
The Cubs have scored 29 runs and batted .216 while losing 10 of 13.
|August 27, 2013||Kyle McPherson||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Right hand contusion|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Right hand contusion|
|August 11, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hand|
|July 28, 2013||Travis Snider||15-Day DL||Left big toe discomfort|
|July 28, 2013||Michael McKenry||60-Day DL||Left knee surgery - out for season|
|September 19, 2013||Welington Castillo||Day-to-Day||Knee|
|August 08, 2013||Matt Guerrier||60-Day DL||Right elbow soreness|
|August 08, 2013||Thomas Neal||60-Day DL||Dislocated right shoulder|
|August 07, 2013||Thomas Neal||Day-to-Day||Dislocated right shoulder|
|August 07, 2013||Dioner Navarro||Day-to-Day||Right ankle contusion|
|August 03, 2013||Luis Valbuena||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Already assured a playoff spot, the Pittsburgh Pirates are pushing for even more.
Gerrit Cole threw six strong innings and the Pirates took over the NL wild-card lead, beating the Chicago Cubs 8-2 Tuesday night.
The Pirates moved one game ahead of Cincinnati, which lost to the Mets 4-2. Pittsburgh remained two games behind NL Central-leading St. Louis.
One night after clinching their first postseason spot in 21 years, Cole and the Pirates showed no signs of losing momentum. Cole hit a two-run single against Chris Rusin (2-6), Pedro Alvarez drove in three runs and Jordy Mercer homered.
"I had every confidence that we'd go out and play a good ballgame," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The men are focused, they're having fun and the opportunity to gain this kind of experience, we've been getting in all year long, this has added to it."
Pittsburgh is trying to add to what's already been a breakout season, and Cole did his part.
Cole (10-7) won his fourth straight start, giving up two runs and seven hits. He struck out six and walked one and became the first Pittsburgh rookie since Josh Fogg in 2002 to win at least 10 games.
"It just kind of felt like I had different stuff every inning. It was weird," Cole said. "The pace of the game was slow. I'm not going to complain about scoring a lot of runs, that's for sure, but it was definitely a new challenge with the cold weather and the long innings. I had to do some different things in there.
"It was great to be able to learn from that and take that into some really meaningful games," he said.
Chicago started the bottom of the second inning with three consecutive hits from Dioner Navarro , Nate Schierholtz and Donnie Murphy , but a baserunning error and double play helped Cole hold the Cubs off the scoreboard.
Schierholtz was tagged between first and second on his single when Navarro stopped at second, and Brian Bogusevic grounded into an inning-ending double play to keep the Cubs scoreless.
The Cubs tried to rally in the sixth, scoring when Mercer mishandled Anthony Rizzo 's bases-loaded grounder to shortstop and cutting Pittsburgh's lead to 6-1.
But Cole struck out Navarro and pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena before Donnie Murphy flied out deep on Cole's 34th pitch of the inning and his last one of the night.
"Those are the experiences for growth you can only get by getting the opportunity to compete, and to get the last fly ball out. He spilled the tank out there and it again it shows that there's fight in that young man," Hurdle said.
"He doesn't have to show up with every weapon sharp to go out and pitch competitively and pitch good enough to win," he said,
The Cubs, meanwhile, haven't been good enough to win for most of this season.
They lost for the 11th time in 14 games, and their 50th defeat at home set a team record. Chicago plays its Wrigley Field finale Wednesday.
"To lose that many games at home, it's something you got to stay away from. For whatever reason, we got to score more runs at home and do something at home," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "This year has just been tough, just seem to do more things on the road than we have at home."
Rusin lost his third straight decision. Alvarez opened the scoring when his second-inning double to right got stuck in the ivy, driving in Marlon Byrd . With two outs, Cole singled home Gaby Sanchez and Alvarez.
Mercer hit a solo shot in the third, connecting for his seventh homer and first since Aug. 22.
"We're still trying to win our division. That's what we're shooting for, so we're trying to win out here and just keep going for the next four games," star outfielder Andrew McCutchen said.
NOTES: Hurdle said struggling All-Star Jeff Locke won't pitch Sunday against Cincinnati, and said Cole could "potentially" start that day while RHP Charlie Morton would be on his regular rest Saturday. But Hurdle didn't formally announce his starters after A.J. Burnett on Friday. Locke is 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA in four September starts. ... Logan Watkins started at second base, and Sveum said Darwin Barney was just getting a day off and would be back in the lineup Wednesday. Barney is hitting .156 in 20 September games. ... McCutchen didn't seem to enjoy too much of the champagne from Monday night. "After a while, it's a little too cold for me, but I'll take it," he said. "I think next time, we should just leave it hot." ... The pitching matchup Wednesday is Pittsburgh LHP Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.88) against Chicago RHP Jake Arrieta (3-2, 3.94).