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PITTSBURGH (AP) – Entering the All-Star break with the second-worst record in the majors, the Chicago Cubs are looking forward to the time off.
Andrew McCutchen homered and drove in five runs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cubs 9-1 on Sunday to enter the All-Star break with their best record in 19 years.
While Pittsburgh is flying high, Chicago has less wins than its had come All-Star week than any year since 2006.
“We can use a break,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. “Everybody knows that. Hopefully we can come back with a fresh mind and ready to go.”
Rookie Darwin Barney had two hits for the Cubs, who have lost seven of 10.
Thirty-eight year-old starter Ramon Ortiz hardly gave Chicago a chance on Sunday, allowing six runs in four-plus innings. The Cubs lost for the 15th time in its past 23 games, but all but one of the previous defeats in that stretch were by three runs or less.
“It’s easy to say, but we’ve got to play better,” outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. “Play better, and see what happens in the second half.”
Paul Maholm allowed one run in 7 2-3 innings, and McCutchen had a three-run homer and two sacrifice flies. Neil Walker went 3 for 4, and Alex Presley had two hits and scored two runs for Pittsburgh.
The surprising Pirates (47-43) have their best record and are closer to first place this late in the season than at any time since their most recent winning season in 1992.
“It’s early, and everybody in here understands that we’re going day-to-day and series-to-series,” Maholm said. The Pirates remained a game behind St. Louis and Milwaukee in the National League Central when both also won on Sunday.
“If we keep winning series, other stuff will take care of itself,” Maholm added. “If we get to Sept. 15 or 20, then that will be time to worry about that stuff, but now it’s win series and continue to be playing well and having fun.”
The Pirates did that in front of another big crowd (31,428) at PNC Park on Sunday, improving to 7-1-1 in their past nine home series.
“We’re getting our wins and competing with every single team,” McCutchen said. “It’s real good to finish up (the first half) strong.”
A day after he made the All-Star team for the first time, McCutchen already had a sacrifice fly when he came up with Presley and Walker aboard in the third. He sent an 0-1 pitch from Ortiz (0-2) into the Cubs’ bullpen in left-center for his 14th homer.
During both the first and third innings, Presley singled and Walker hit a one-out double before McCutchen came up.
Walker tripled leading off the fifth to chase Ortiz. He scored on McCutchen’s fly ball against Chris Carpenter.
Maholm (6-9) allowed four hits, finishing with eight strikeouts and no walks. The left-hander improved to 9-2 in his career against the Cubs and has allowed only one run in 23 1-3 innings against them this season.
Reed Johnson scored on Ramirez’s fielder’s choice in the fourth for Chicago’s first run off Maholm in 19 innings this season. Johnson started the inning with a double and moved to third on Starlin Castro’s single.
The only other hits Maholm were by Barney, in the sixth and eighth.
Chris Resop got Johnson to fly out to end the eighth, and Jose Veras finished the four-hitter.
Since shutting out Chicago on May 28, Maholm is 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in nine starts.
Via hit batters and Pittsburgh errors, Chicago had baserunners Sunday, but the Pirates turned a double play in each of the first four innings.
“If you play good baseball, you’ve got a chance to win,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We played better than them today. We flat-out out-pitched them, we out-fielded them and out-hit them. That gives you a chance to win.”
Making his second start since his contract was purchased from Triple-A Iowa, Ortiz was allowed seven hits and a walk.
“He competes,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said. “He just didn’t have real good stuff today.”
Ortiz realizes that he might not be in the Cubs’ plans coming out of the All-star break, particularly after such a shaky performance.
“I don’t have a contract for anything,” he said. “I only have a contract to throw the ball, that’s it. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen.
“I felt good today,” he added. “I missed a couple pitches high in the zone, and they hit it.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh RHP Kevin Correia was added to the NL All-Star team as a replacement for Phillies LHP Cole Hamels. The selection gives the Pirates three All-stars for the first time since 1990. … The Pirates are expected to activate LHP Joe Beimel from the disabled list in time for their next game on Friday. … Walker has hit safely in all 18 of his career games against the Cubs and McCutchen has reached safely in each of his past 23 games against Chicago. …
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