Jordy Mercer's three-run shot gave the Pittsburgh Pirates all the runs they would need as the Pirates (95-60) blanked the Chicago Cubs (89-65) by a score of 4-0 Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
In the top of the fifth, Mercer followed lead-off singles by Francisco Cervelli and Pedro Alvarez with a towering drive into the wind. The ball landed two rows into the left-field bleachers for a three-run home run (3) that gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead (video).
The Pirates threatened again, getting two more singles after the blast to knock Cubs starter Jason Hammel out of the game. Justin Grimm and Trevor Cahill got out of the jam after the Pirates loaded the bases with one out.
Pittsburgh added another run in the eighth when Sean Rodriguez doubled home Cervelli (video).
The Cubs forced only one legitimate threat when they got two men on in the bottom of the eighth. Two men walked, but two also struck out in between those walks, leaving Anthony Rizzo to try to pull his team close. Rizzo, though, flew out to Andrew McCutchen in shallow center field to end the inning.
The Cubs had several balls meet up with a strong Wrigley Field wind blowing in from right and causing the ball to fall into the Pirates' outfield gloves. The Cubs had only four hits on the afternoon.
Francisco Liriano (W: 12-7, 3.27) kept the Cubs off balance for 7 2/3 innings with a terrific breaking ball. He allowed four hits while walking three and striking out nine. Liriano was also 2 for 4 at the plate.
Hammel (L: 9-7, 3.86) gave up Mercer's home run after cruising through the first four innings on only two hits. By the time he left, Hammel allowed three earned runs on seven hits. Six Cubs relievers finished the game with Tommy Hunter allowing the extra run in the eighth.
Despite their third straight loss, the Cubs still made it to the clubhouse to celebrate their postseason berth that they clinched Friday night when the San Francisco Giants lost to the Oakland Athletics. FOX Sports, who broadcast Saturday's game, showed the Cubs' celebration both in the clubhouse and back on the field moments later.
At this point, it is very unlikely that the Cubs will seed any higher, so they will now set their sites on defeating the Pirates in the N.L. Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh on October 7.
The Pirates, though, have higher ambitions. With Saturday's win, the Pirates are 2.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the N.L. Central title pending the outcome of the Cardinals' game with the Milwaukee Brewers Saturday night. The Pirates and Cardinals have three head-to-head match-ups in Pittsburgh's PNC Park from Monday through Wednesday, September 28-30.
In Sunday's series finale, the Cubs will send Cy Young contender Jake Arrieta (20-6, 1.88 ERA) to the mound to try to avoid the sweep. Pittsburgh will counter with veteran A.J. Burnett (9-5, 3.15). This game is ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball feature and will begin at 8:08 p.m. EDT.