CHICAGO (AP) — The pitch was just a tick up, and Starlin Castro was ready. When Edwin Jackson was limited to five innings, the bullpen took over. Pedro Alvarez's drive fell short on the warning track.
These are fun days for the improving Chicago Cubs.
Castro hit a three-run homer and Jackson finally got the better of Charlie Morton, leading the Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
"This is the nicest I've felt about this team since I've been here," said Anthony Rizzo, who was acquired in a January 2012 trade with San Diego.
Chris Coghlan added a solo shot as the Cubs opened a 10-game homestand with their fourth win in five games. Last-place Chicago also improved to 18-13 since May 17 for the best record in the NL in that stretch.
"Everything in this game is contagious, whether it's positive, negative, hitting, defense, pitching," Coghlan said. "I think we're having more team at-bats."
Jackson (5-7) was removed after 86 pitches due to cramps in his calves, but it was enough to get his first win in four matchups this year against Morton (4-8). The right-handers have faced off more than any other pair of starting pitchers this season in the majors.
Jackson allowed three runs on Jordy Mercer's fifth homer and five hits. He struck out eight and walked two in just his second win in his last six starts.
Alvarez had a chance to tie the game when he came to the plate with two on and two out in the sixth. He took a frustrated hop between first and second as Ryan Sweeney ran down his long fly ball in the biggest part of the ballpark.
Andrew McCutchen struck out with two on in the seventh, wasting another Pittsburgh threat.
"Pitching's been pretty great all year. The offense is coming around, and the defense is coming around as well," Jackson said. "So we're definitely showing a glimpse of what we're able to do. It's just going out and doing it on a consistent basis."
Pittsburgh rookie Gregory Polanco opened the game with a single to center, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. He is the first NL player to begin his career with such a streak since Juan Pierre's 16-game run for Colorado in 2000.
The Pirates have lost four of five since a four-game winning streak.
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