PITTSBURGH—Cubs manager Lou Piniella joked about "taking a dip in the Allegheny River" before Monday's game against the Pirates on a sunny afternoon at PNC Park.
But after watching his team blow a seven-run lead only to come back for a wild 10-8, 12-inning win in a 4-hour-47-minute marathon, Piniella had a change of heart.
Piniella had a chance to laugh after a game that defied credulity. If the Cubs had blown it, Piniella was told, he just might have jumped off the nearby Roberto Clemente Bridge.
Instead, the Cubs survived with a two-run rally in the 12th without the aid of a hit, starting their first road trip of the season on a winning note. Aramis Ramirez's sac- rifice fly off Evan Meek brought home Ryan Theriot with the go-ahead run, and Jon Lieber notched the win with three innings of scoreless relief.
"It's huge," Lieber said. "These guys are notorious for comebacks like that. I don't know how many times I've seen that at this ballpark."
Despite committing three errors, walking eight Pittsburgh hitters and letting that seven-run lead slip away, the Cubs managed to deal the Pirates their 13th loss in their last 15 home openers.
It was so ugly early on that the sellout crowd of 37,491 was chanting "Let's Go Pens" during the Cubs' six-run third, a reference to the Penguins' quest for the Stanley Cup, which begins at home Wednesday.
Pittsburgh was down to its last reliever to start the 12th when Meek entered and lived up to his surname. After walks to Theriot and Alfonso Soriano, Felix Pie squared to bunt. But Meek's first pitch went to the backstop, allowing both runners to advance on the wild pitch.
Pie was retired on a grounder to first, prompting an intentional walk to Derrek Lee. Ramirez, who struck out to end the 10th with runners on second and third, brought home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly. Mark DeRosa later walked with the bases loaded for an insurance run.
The Cubs had jumped to a 7-0 lead and Ted Lilly seemed to be on cruise control in the fourth. But the left-hander couldn't get out of the inning, allowing five runs before Kevin Hart replaced him with two outs.
Errors by Ronny Cedeno and Ramirez contributed to the meltdown, but Lilly was his own worst enemy, nibbling at the corners despite a seven-run lead.
The Pirates had pulled within 8-7 when Nyjer Morgan hit a grounder to DeRosa at second with a man on second and two outs in the seventh. DeRosa's booted the ball for an error, his second late-inning miscue in the last four games, and Jose Bautista scored the tying run all the way from second.
But Pittsburgh failed to put it away in the ninth, despite having runners on first and third with one out. Bautista's safety squeeze bunt resulted in a putout at first, and Luis Rivas grounded out to end the threat.
"I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty," Piniella said.
"Opening Day in Pittsburgh give their team credit for coming back from a seven-run deficit. But our guys hung in there and we pulled one out."