Even though their usually reliable closer blew a save, the Chicago Cubs' bullpen was still good enough to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Dioner Navarro's pinch-sacrifice fly drove in Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs defeated the Pirates 4-3 in 11 innings on Sunday.
Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano singled to start the 11th and advanced when Russell Martin's pickoff throw to second went into center field for the catcher's first error of the year. Luis Valbuena was intentionally walked by Bryan Morris (4-3) before Navarro's fly to right.
"We're playing to win," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Martin's error. "If you've watched that guy play all year, you just move on. The throw gets the bag (Rizzo's) out."
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Pittsburgh's Starling Marte hit a 3-2 pitch for a home run to tie the score at 3. Marte's homer was his ninth of the season and came off Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who was one out from his 16th save in 17 tries.
"One strike away there, made some good pitches in to him, made him conscious of the ball in," Gregg said. "I felt like I made a pretty good pitch away from him and he did a good job of hitting it and going to get it."
Other than that and a run allowed by Hector Rondon in the fifth, the Chicago bullpen came through on a day when it had to.
Carlos Villanueva, making his first start since May 14, was on a strict pitch count and threw 69 in four innings, allowing one run and three hits while striking out five.
After Villanueva left, the Cubs' bullpen went seven innings and gave up two runs. Matt Guerrier (3-4), acquired July 2 from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Carlos Marmol, pitched two scoreless innings after Gregg's blown save. He finished a day that saw the Cubs use him and five other relievers -- Rondon, Pedro Strop, James Russell, Blake Parker and Gregg.
"It's nice," said Guerrier, who also worked two scoreless innings Saturday. "With (Villanueva) on a short pitch count, we had to kind of use everybody today."
The Cubs' effective bullpen also knocked the Pirates into a first-place tie in the National League Central with St. Louis. The Pirates hadn't lost consecutive games since getting swept by the Atlanta Braves on June 3-5 and lost back-to-back series for the first time since losing to Cincinnati and the Braves from May 31 to June 5.
Pittsburgh had its chances to get more off Villanueva and the Cubs bullpen but stranded two runners in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. That included leaving a runner at third in the fourth and sixth.
A.J. Burnett, who was activated off the disabled list after missing a month with a right calf strain, went five innings and allowed two runs (one earned) and three hits while striking out three in his first start since June 8 against the Cubs.
Though Burnett and the Pirates didn't get a win, he still liked what he saw on Marte's homer.
"They never quit. They never quit," Burnett said. "That's something you can't teach. It's just play until the last out's made and that's what we do."
With two outs in the Cubs' seventh Scott Hairston, pinch-hitting for Strop, took a 2-1 pitch from Tony Watson and hit it into deep center field to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. The homer was Hairston's eighth of the year and his first as a pinch-hitter for the Cubs.
It looked like that would be enough for the Cubs until Marte's homer.
But instead of allowing more after the game was tied, Chicago's bullpen held Pittsburgh until Navarro could win it in the 11th.
"To give up two in seven innings is doing a great job," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
NOTES: Pirates 2B Neil Walker was not in the lineup, one day after coming out of the game with discomfort in his right side Hurdle said Walker is day to day. ... Cubs OF Brian Bogusevic, who has a tight left hamstring, pinch-hit for Villanueva in the fourth and struck out swinging. ... To make room for Burnett, the Pirates optioned pitcher Ryan Reid to Triple-A Indianapolis. Reid has no record and a 1.64 ERA in seven games. ... Jeff Locke (8-1, 2.12 ERA) faces Oakland's Bartolo Colon (11-3, 2.78 ERA) in a matchup of pitching all-stars on Monday in Pittsburgh. Locke will be one of Pittsburgh's four representatives, and Colon was the only Oakland player chosen. ... Cubs RHP Matt Garza (4-1, 3.45 ERA) faces the White Sox's Hector Santiago (3-5, 3.50 ERA) in a makeup game for the May 28 rainout.