By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- Something had to give when Pirates starter Todd Ritchie took the mound at PNC Park Wednesday, seeking his fifth consecutive home victory.
Ritchie's teammates were nursing a four-game losing streak since his last appearance, a 1-0 win last Friday over the Kansas City Royals. Adding to the challenge for the slumping Bucs were hard-throwing Kerry Wood and the first-place Chicago Cubs.
Ritchie and Wood dueled to a 4-4 stalemate into the seventh inning, before Pittsburgh closer Mike Williams blew his second save opportunity of the season.
Winning rally: The Cubs scored ninth-inning runs on a slow infield roller and a bloop double to left field to produce a 6-5 victory.
"This one is certainly hard to swallow," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon. "Closers are going to lose games occasionally.
"We had our closer on the mound and he's done well all year. That's a good team over there and they did an outstanding job of base-running in that ninth inning."
Rookie Craig Wilson temporarily stole the spotlight from the pitchers, when he put Pittsburgh ahead 5-4 in the seventh inning with his club-record fifth pinch-hit home run.
With Williams, who has 18 saves, on the mound, the Pirates appeared poised to break their losing streak. But he was in trouble immediately, giving up a lead-off single to Ricky Gutierrez. One out later, Joe Giraldi singled to right, sending Gutierrez to third base.
Pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo hit a slow infield roller to second baseman Abraham Nunez, whose only play was to throw out Cairo, allowing Gutierrez to score the tying run.
Eric Young's blooped hit scored the slow-footed Giraldi from second.
Asked which hit was the most devastating, Williams replied, "Take your pick. All three were big hits."
Gordon finishes up: Cubs closer Tom Gordon surrendered a one-out single to Kevin Young in the bottom of the ninth, but then he struck out Nunez and John Wehner to end the game.
Just after the seventh-inning stretch, Wilson drilled the first pitch he faced from Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth, a 97-mph fastball, into the right-field stands to break a 4-4 tie.
"I just go out there and try to hit the ball hard," Wilson said. "I'm not really going up there looking [for homers]. If the ball goes out, it goes out. If I go up and hit the ball hard, that's pretty much all I can do."
McClendon said, "Wilson is amazing with that short stroke. Somehow we have to find a way to get him more at-bats."
Wilson's main position is catcher, but McClendon said he's also been practicing at first base and outfield.
Ritchie, who allowed the Cubs' first four runs in 61/3 innings, said he felt he deserved the loss because he twice failed to hold two-run leads.
"This is an extremely frustrating loss because my team gave me the lead on two different occasions, and I didn't get the job done as I'm supposed to," Ritchie said. "I didn't set the tone."
McClendon said Ritchie's "command wasn't as sharp as it was in his last couple of outings. He left a couple of pitches up in the zone that cost him. But he did his job because he kept us in the game."
Early lead: The Bucs took advantage of Wood's early wildness to score two first-inning runs on sacrifice flies.
Tike Redman opened with a walk and stole second base. Jack Wilson singled to right field and hustled to second when Sammy Sosa threw home to keep Redman at third base. Jason Kendall and Brian Giles hit deep flyball outs to produce the Pirates' 2-0 lead.
Corey Patterson's two-run homer over the right-field seats tied the game in the second inning.
Errors led to the Pirates' second lead. With two outs in the third, Kendall reached base on third baseman Ron Coomer's fielding error. Wood's pickoff attempt went far down the right-field line, allowing Kendall to move to third.
Giles' 23rd homer, over the center-field fence, gave the Bucs a 4-2 lead.
The Cubs tied the score again when Matt Stairs broke an 0-for-9 slump with a two-out double that scored Delino DeShields and Coomer in the sixth inning.