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Pirates-Cubs Preview

The Associated Press

Charlie Morton was sharp and Edwin Jackson was solid when they squared off Wednesday, but it was Thursday by the time the Pirates won the longest game in Pittsburgh baseball history.

Chicago is hoping to make it a bit more difficult on Morton this time.

After scoring as many runs in their latest game as their first five, the Cubs look for better luck against Morton as he again squares off against Jackson in Tuesday night's series opener at Wrigley Field.

Morton struck out six Cubs in six innings Wednesday, and it appeared the Pirates (4-2) were headed toward a 2-0 victory after scoring a pair off Jackson in his 5 1-3 innings. But Chicago rallied with runs in the eighth and ninth, and it took until backup catcher Tony Sanchez's pinch-hit single in the 16th - 5 hours, 55 minutes after the game started - before Pittsburgh won 4-3.

Sanchez came through with another big hit Sunday, doubling home Pedro Alvarez in the seventh to lift the Pirates to a 2-1 win and series victory against St. Louis.

''I'm still nervous playing up here,'' Sanchez said. ''My heart is racing. My head is spinning. It feels like the game is going 1,000 mph. So, it's nice to be able to get some big hits.''

The Cubs (2-4) finally got some Sunday after totaling eight runs in their first five games. Chicago recorded six hits, but four of those came in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position in its 8-3 win over Philadelphia.

Rick Renteria's club had gone 4 for 40 in such situations prior to Sunday.

''They've strung together a lot of good at-bats over the last five or six days. We just don't have a lot to show for it," Renteria said. ''Today, we happened to have some balls find holes, and we took advantage of it.''

The Cubs will try to keep it going against Morton, who has allowed only seven hits over 13 scoreless innings in his last two starts against Chicago without a win to show for it.

The Cubs aren't the only opponent he's made uncomfortable with his trademark sinker. Morton is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last 12 regular-season starts, allowing one homer in 73 1-3 innings while producing a major league-best 78.7 percent ground-ball rate.

"At first, it was never, 'What I have is good enough.' I was always questioning myself," Morton told the team's official website, "and making things more complicated. Now I'm good with what I've got. I just have to throw it in the right place. The key for me is still to have the count in my favor, to put batters on the defensive, where they are more likely to chase the sinker."

The one hitter neither Morton nor any other Pirates pitcher could figure out last week was Emilio Bonifacio, who had two hits against Morton en route to an 11-for-16 opening series. Bonifacio had three more Saturday and Sunday, giving him a major league-best 14 in 28 at-bats with his new team.

He even drew an intentional walk - the third of his eight-year career - in the 11th inning of Wednesday's game.

"I told (catcher Russell) Martin, 'Really?' and he said, 'We can't get you out,'" Bonifacio said. "Even the umpire was laughing."

Jackson will look to continue his strong 2013 finish at Wrigley. After starting 0-5 with a 7.83 in his first six starts on the North Side, the right-hander went 4-3 with a 2.01 ERA over his final seven.

He'll likely be pitching carefully to Andrew McCutchen, who is 8 for 21 with two homers and five walks against Jackson. The reigning NL MVP's .488 on-base percentage at Wrigley is easily his best at any venue.

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