The Pittsburgh Pirates needed less than a day
a steamy, scorching, unproductive day to realize how much they miss Jason Kendall.
Henry Rodriguez homered and drove in three runs and the Chicago Cubs benefited from some terrible Pittsburgh infield play on a brutally hot day to halt a four-game losing streak and beat the Kendall-less Pirates 5-2 Monday.
"I was just trying to help the team, especially the way we've been going for what seems like the last 15 years," Rodriguez said of the Cubs, who had lost 18 of 23. "This has been a long time. The last three weeks were really hard."
The previous 24 hours were hard on the Pirates, who lost Kendall
their best player and clubhouse leader with a shattered right ankle in a gruesome accident Sunday. He probably won't play again until 2000.
A number of players visited Kendall in his hospital room Sunday night and Monday, and the Pirates wore his nickname "Kid" on their hats in tribute.
"When you lose a great player like Jason, you have much less margin for error," manager Gene Lamont said. "We have to catch the ball better than that. Sometimes you can pitch above something like that, but sometimes you can't."
Jon Lieber (7-3) finally gave the Cubs something resembling a well-pitched game in his first start against his former teammates, allowing two runs and striking out 10 in 5 1-3 innings as temperatures peaked at 101 degrees.
The heat led to a predictably slow-paced game that featured 19 strikeouts 13 by Cubs pitchers and 11 walks and took nearly 3 1/2 hours to play.
"I felt like my shoes were going to melt," Schmidt said.
Schmidt, who inhabits Lieber's old locker, lost for the first time in seven decisions in Three Rivers Stadium this season. But he didn't have much help as three infield errors twby shortstop Abraham Nunez and one by second baseman Warren Morris led to the first three runs. Third baseman Ed Sprague made the fourth error.
Lieber's outing seemed modest by most standards two runs, eight hits, five walks but it was a vast improvement for a Cubs staff that was rocked for 41 runs and 50 hits during Philadelphia's three-game weekend sweep.
Of course, Lieber and four relievers got plenty of help from a reconfigured Pirates batting order that stranded 15 runners, including at least two in all but one of the first six innings.
"Sure, it's a little extra special because it's the Pirates," said Lieber, who was traded for Brant Brown in December. "But I'm just glad we won a ballgame and I hope it starts something big for us."
Were the Pirates pressing to make up for Kendall's lost production?
Brown, for example, was 2-for-5 while batting cleanup for only the second time. But he struck out with two on and none out in the third and again an inning later to leave the bases stranded.
"I talked to all the players, and I told them they can't try to be something they're not," Lamont said. "You can't try to hit homers if you're not a power hitter. If you're a defensive player, you can't try to hit .370. All you do is put more pressure on yourself."
Ray King, Matt Karchner, Felix Heredia and Rick Aguilera shut out the Pirates over the final 3 2-3 innings, an exceptionally good outing for a bullpen with a 6.31 ERA. Aguilera got three outs for his fourth save.
Schmidt's balk scored the Cubs' final run in the fifth after Rodriguez led off with his 15th homer and Tyler Houston and Sandy Martinez singled with one out.
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