In a year full of inconsistencies for Mitch Keller, he looked every part of what the Pirates were hoping he would be Thursday Night at Wrigley Field, but unfortunately for the Pirates, the outstanding performance wasn’t enough as the Cubs walked-off the Pirates, winning 6-5.
Ian Happ stepped into the box with runners on the corners and one out in the ninth. Happ hit a high popup to Wilmer Difo, who couldn’t track it down as it fell to his right and the Cubs scored on the play to win the game. It was the first time the Pirates have been walked off all year.
With his family in attendance, Keller had some of his best fastball command of the season, and his breaking pitches looked sharp. He left very few pitches over the plate and looked to be in complete control for most of the night.
In his six innings of work, Keller allowed just six hits and picked up eight strikeouts, tying a season-high. The most encouraging sign for Keller is that he did not walk a batter for just the third time this season.
Derek Shelton made the call to the pen and Chad Kuhl was given the ball in the seventh. After allowing a pair of hits, he served up a game-tying three-run homer to Ortega, erasing Keller’s chance to get a win.
Two batters later, Happ put the Cubs ahead with a two-run homer on a hanging breaking ball, making the game 5-3.
Kuhl, who had looked good overall since coming out of the Bucs’ pen, was tagged with five earned runs and recorded just one out.
The Pirates had a first inning lead thanks to a Colin Moran three-run homer to left field.
Moran can! pic.twitter.com/IyuQTJXz6S
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 3, 2021
The Pirates tied it in the ninth when Michael Perez, whose last hit was on Aug. 1, hit a two-run single with the bases loaded. With runners on the corners and one out, Cole Tucker bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Cubs’ starter Keegan Thompson didn’t last long, pitching just 1.2 innings before handing the ball to Chicago’s bullpen, who held the Pirates without a baserunner until the eighth inning when Bryan Reynolds drew a one-out walk.
Reynolds reached base three times, and with a pair of singles, he picked up his first two-hit game since Aug. 14 in the first game of a doubleheader.
David Bednar pitched two scoreless innings and picked up four strikeouts to keep the game going.
Game two on Friday is a day game with first pitch scheduled for 2:20. Steven Brault (0-3, 4.57 ERA) vs. Alec Mills (6-6, 4.32 ERA) is the pitching matchup.
Stat of the Game:
- After his six shutout innings, two of Keller’s best starts of the season have come against the Cubs. He earned his first win of the year after pitching five innings of one-run ball at PNC Park on April 10, picking up seven strikeouts in that game, which is the second most he’s had in any game this season. In three starts against Chicago on the year, Keller has a 2.57 ERA (4er/14ip) with 18 strikeouts.
- Colin Loves the Cubs: After his three-run homer Thursday night, Moran is batting .405 (15 for 37) over his last 11 games against the Cubs. In that stretch, he’s hit four doubles and three home runs. For his career, Moran is batting .315 (46 for 146) with 11 doubles and six homers against the Cubs. He now has four homers in his career at Wrigley Field, the second most at any away ballpark, trailing only the seven he’s hit in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
- September Scaries…: The Pirates lost their second straight to open September and since 2019, the month has not been a good one for the Pirates. In 2019, the Bucs went 10-16 and last year they went 9-19 in Shelton’s first go at it as the Pirates’ manager. After going 0-2 in the first two games in September to start 2021, the Pirates have a combined September record of 19-36 (.345) their last three seasons. Their last winning September came in 2018 when they went 16-10, leading to the team’s last winning season (82-79).
- …But Not For Mitch: Thursday’s start was the eighth career start for Keller in the month of September, in those eight starts Keller has a 2.95 ERA (12er/36.2ip). It has been by far the most successful month of Keller’s young career in Pittsburgh in months he’s made multiple starts. In his last two starts last season, Keller pitched 11 shutout innings and did not allow a hit in either game. Keller’s career ERA by month: March/April: 8.20 in five starts, May: 6.43 in six starts, June: 9.95 in five starts, July: 1.80 in one start, August: 6.75 in 10 starts
- Steady Stallings: With a ninth inning single, Jacob Stallings has reached base safely in 21 of his last 23 starts behind the plate. He’s also hit safely in seven of his last 10 games, hitting .306 (11 for 36). In 2021 against the Cubs, Stallings is hitting .297 (11 for 37) with four doubles and five RBIs.