Darnell McDonald’s three-run, sixth-inning home run off Pittsburgh ace Francisco Liriano on Wednesday afternoon propelled the Chicago Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the Pirates, and ensured the St. Louis Cardinals of at least a tie for the National League Central Division title.
The Cardinals defeated Washington 4-1 to take a three-game lead over Pittsburgh with three games apiece remaining in the regular season. One St. Louis win or one Pittsburgh loss would give the Cards the title, and relegate the Pirates to wild card status.
McDonald, the first cousin of former Liriano mound mate James McDonald, also doubled twice. Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo both added two hits for the Cubs (66-93). Rizzo’s RBI single, following Barney”s double, in the first inning had produced Chicago’s earlier run.
The Pirates (91-68) were held to six hits, including two by Justin Morneau and leadoff hitter Starling Marte. Morneau drew a bases-loaded walk for the Bucs’ first run in the third inning, and Jose Tabata’s pinch-hit triple in the top of the ninth inning completed the game’s scoring.
Liriano (16-8; 3.02 ERA) pitched five-plus innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, striking out eight batters and walking one. Cubs starter Jake Arrieta (5-4 overall; 4-2 with Chicago; 4.78 ERA) struck out just one hitter and walked two, but gave up only one run and four hits. Although he allowed the ninth-inning run, closer Kevin Gregg earned his 33rd save.
After an off-day Thursday, the Pirates will finish the season with three games in Cincinnati against the third-place Reds, who trail Pittsburgh by one game. Unless the Bucs manage to win the division title, they would then meet the Reds again on Tuesday in the one-game wild card playoff. As it turns out, the home team for that game would be determined by the winner of the weekend series in Cincinnati.