Harden impresses to douse win drought
Starter yields one run, fans nine, for first W since May 12
PITTSBURGH -- Rich Harden did something Monday he hadn't done since May 12: earn a win.
Backed by Harden's solid outing, the Cubs beat the Pirates, 3-1, in front of 15,400 at PNC Park.
But the only win Harden seemed to care about was his club's 36th of the season to get back to one game below .500.
"The important thing is the team won today," Harden said. "I've never really got caught up in personal wins or losses. As long as I'm doing my job out there and giving the team a chance to win, then I'm happy."
Harden threw seven innings and gave up one run on nine hits, eight of which were singles. His nine strikeouts nearly doubled the total in his previous two starts combined (five) and tied for his second-highest total in a game this season. Harden also cooled Adam LaRoche's bat. The first baseman was hitting .379 at home entering the game but struck out three times against Harden.
Interestingly, the nine hits were the most Harden's surrendered since he also gave up nine on Aug. 9, 2005, against the Angels. Regardless, Harden broke a stretch in which he lost three consecutive decisions. He has also given up two runs or fewer in three of his last four starts.
On Monday, Harden struck out the side in the second during a stretch in which he struck out four of five. His changeup was the most impressive pitch out of his arsenal.
"He had good stuff the whole game," manager Lou Piniella said. "He threw consistently hard and he had a really, really good changeup, and when he kept it down, it was almost unhittable."
With Harden dealing on the mound, the Cubs got all the offense they needed by pushing a run across in three consecutive innings off Pirates lefty Zach Duke.
In the second, Andres Blanco hit a two-out RBI single to center field to score Jake Fox. It was a close play at the plate, but the throw was high to allow Fox to slide in safely under Jason Jaramillo's attempted tag.
Ryan Theriot gave the Cubs a run in the third with a solo shot to left. It was his first home run since June 7. Despite that stretch, he has seven blasts on the season, which ties his career total entering 2009. It took him just 278 at-bats to get seven this season after needing 1,264 to get the first seven of his career.
"He's one of those guys you just try to stay short and try to hit the ball up the middle," Theriot said of Duke. "Because you never know what you're going to get with him. He's tough to pattern."
Chicago's last run came in the fourth, courtesy of Milton Bradley. It was his first RBI since June 12, and just his fifth extra-base hit this month. Bradley was joined by Fox as the only Cubs hitters to get two hits in the game. Fox is hitting .347 this season.
Harden didn't give up his first hit until the fourth, when Nyjer Morgan reached on a leadoff single. The Pirates didn't even get a runner into scoring position until the fifth.
"He's got a good fastball that gets on you, but his changeup was just really good tonight," Pirates right fielder Brandon Moss said. "He kept it down, and you saw how many swings and misses he got on it. He threw it in all counts. He kept us off balance with the changeup all night."
But the insurance runs came in handy during an especially tight situation.
In the fifth, after Andy LaRoche doubled and scored on an RBI groundout, Pittsburgh notched three straight singles to load the bases. But with the go-ahead run at first and two outs, Harden snagged a sharp hit by Freddy Sanchez and threw to first baseman Derrek Lee to limit the damage.
Harden relied on his changeup throughout the evening, including such precarious situations.
"I wanted to establish that early, throwing it for strikes," Harden said. "In the past, I've been a little inconsistent with it, haven't been able to throw strikes with it and I definitely used it to get out of some jams today with runners on base."
With Harden out at 102 pitches, the Cubs turned to Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg to close out the win.
Marmol, who gave up a combined three runs in his last two appearances, worked a 1-2-3 eighth. Not to be outdone, Gregg retired the side in order in the ninth to notch his 13th save of the season.
Wayne Staats is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.