CHICAGO – Now this was the Chris Archer the Pirates thought they were getting when they traded for him last July.
Archer was dominant for six innings Friday, doing everything you could possibly want to see in a No. 1 starter. He was striking hitters out with ease, not giving up the home runs and walks that have haunted him throughout the season, getting ahead in the count and mixing his pitches.
Simply put, he looked like the two-time All-Star that he was in his seven seasons with the Rays — the player the Pirates gave up a huge amount of talent to acquire. At least for six innings, it could finally be forgotten that Austin Meadows played in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to help the Pirates win. Archer didn’t retire any of the three batters he faced in the seventh as Michael Feliz allowed two inherited runners to score before Kyle Crick gave up Jason Heyward’s game-winning single in the eighth inning.
Though the Pirates lost to the Cubs 4-3 at Wrigley Field in the opener of the three-game series and the first game following a four-day break for the All-Star Game, Archer gave them something to feel good about.
“It was quality,” Crick said of Archer’s outing. “It was special. It was really something to watch.”
Archer was obviously disappointed that the Pirates (44-46) lost for just the sixth time in their last 18 games and dropped 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central. However, there was a sense of relief that perhaps he is finally turning a corner after coming into the day with a 3-6 record and 5.49 ERA in 15 starts this season.
“I definitely felt like myself,” Archer said. “I got out of it with a bit our sour taste in my mouth but there were a lot of positive things from a team standpoint, so I’m going to lay my head down well tonight.”
Archer had more to say about his outing:
Clint Hurdle felt the key to Archer’s success was fastball command, something that has been lacking throughout the season, as evidenced by 43 walks and 21 home runs allowed in 84 2/3 innings. While Archer walked two Friday, he also struck out 10 and gave up just three hits.
“It was a fantastic performance, the kind you’re looking for from Chris,” Hurdle said. “It’s one of the best games he’s pitched since he’s been with us. The swing-and-miss stuff. The fastball command. The fastball set up his three other pitches. It was fun to watch him pitch.”
Archer’s pitch usage broke down this way: 44 percent fastballs, 39 percent sliders, 12 percent changeups and five percent curveballs. Archer had thrown 50 percent fastballs and 35 percent sliders previously this season and said he wanted to use his slider more in the second half.
“I commanded it and that made all my other pitches better,” Archer said of the fastball. “I had all four pitches working. When I have all four pitches working, I’m capable of pitching like that.”
Archer, though, couldn’t make it through the seventh as the Cubs scored three runs to break a scoreless tie. Kris Bryant led off with a solo home run to left field and Archer was pulled following a single by Anthony Rizzo and walk to Victor Caratini. Feliz relieved and allowed Robel Garcia’s sacrifice fly then walked pinch-hitter David Bote with the bases loaded to force in a run.
“I’d like to have a few pitches back, especially the pitch to Bryant,” Archer said of a hanging slider.
Cubs starter Yu Darvish was nearly as good as Archer, shutting out the Pirates on two hits for six innings. However, Starling Marte tied the score at 3-3 in the eighth by hitting a long three-run home run off Pedro Strop with two outs. The drive, Marte’s 13th of the season, sailed over the left-field bleachers and was estimated at 454 feet.
However, the Cubs scored the winning run off Crick (3-6) in the eighth after he walked Bryant with one out and Caratini with two outs. Heyward followed by grounding a single into left field to give the Cubs (48-43) just their 11th win in their last 27 games.
Crick wouldn’t bite when he was asked if he was frustrated to lose on a ground-ball single.
“If there’s no one on base, it’s just a harmless single,” he said. “I walked two guys. I put two guys on base and that’s on me. I didn’t do my job.”
Craig Kimbrel set the Pirates down in the order in the ninth inning for his third save. At least for Archer, though, he has something good to build on.
“This is the pitcher I am, and I am going to get better from here on out,” Archer said.
• Steven Brault, left-hander, is on the 10-day IL.
• Gregory Polanco, right fielder, is on the 10-day IL with a left posterior shoulder strain. He is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis.
• Francisco Cervelli, catcher, is on the seven-day concussion IL.
• Jameson Taillon, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with a right elbow flexor-tendon strain.
• Keone Kela, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with right shoulder inflammation.
• Rookie Davis, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with a right middle-finger blister and is now rehabbing a strained right forearm at the Pirates' training facility in Bradenton, Fla.
• Erik Gonzalez, shortstop, is on the 60-day IL with a left clavicle fracture, and is on a rehab assignment with Indianapolis.
• Lonnie Chisenhall, outfielder, is on the 60-day IL with a left calf strain.
The Pirates and Cubs play the second game of their three-game at 2:20 p.m. (Central time) Saturday with Jordan Lyles (5-5, 4.36) facing left-hander Jon Lester (8-6, 3.72). Lyles is 0-4 with a 5.83 ERA in his last five starts and Lester is 5-2 with a 3.89 ERA in his last seven starts.
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