Rich Harden repeatedly worked out of trouble to win for the first time in more than six weeks, Ryan Theriot homered and the Cubs maintained their mastery of the Pirates by winning 3-1 on Monday night.
The Cubs started 1-6 on a 10-game trip that included manager Lou Piniella's run-in with Milton Bradley and were 14-24 on the road before winning their eighth in their last 10 in Pittsburgh. They have won 20 of their last 25 games here, with two more remaining in this series.
Now that interleague play is over except for one makeup game, the Cubs are looking to make a move in the division, and are 3½ games behind first-place Milwaukee.
They are 18-17 against the NL Central, while the last-place Pirates - despite trailing fourth-place Chicago by only 2½ games -- are 10-22.
"We need to try to string some wins together and take a shot at it," Theriot said. "I really feel we're right where we want to be, with all the injuries we've had and the juggling of the lineup. We're right there in striking distance."
The Pirates would be, too, if only they were modestly better in the division.
"The division is how you win the division," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "If you don't beat the teams in your division, you're not going to go anywhere."
Still, Wilson won't concede the Pirates -- despite their 16 consecutive losing seasons -- can't contend this season.
"How many of those games are like this?" he said. "It's not like we're getting blown out. You look at other teams that are in last place in their division, they're much less talented than the top teams. But I don't think we're less talented than the Cardinals or the Brewers."
The Pirates had numerous chances to get to Harden (5-4), who was 0-3 with a 5.64 ERA in four starts since last winning May 12, but never did.
They stranded a combined five runners during the fifth and sixth innings, and No. 3 hitter Freddy Sanchez grounded into a double play with two on and one out in the seventh.
Sanchez, hitless in four at-bats, also grounded out to Harden with the bases loaded and a run in following Andy LaRoche's double in the fifth. An inning later, Harden struck out Jason Jaramillo and Wilson after one-out singles by Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche.
"He really kept us off balance," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He threw a couple of nice breaking pitches and made some really big pitches when he needed to."
Harden, facing Pittsburgh for the first time, gave up nine hits -- eight singles -- and walked a batter, but struck out nine. The Pirates were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
"Interesting game," Harden said. "I don't think I've given up so many singles in one game ... but I was able to make some pitches."
Kevin Gregg pitched the ninth for his 13th save in 16 opportunities.
Zach Duke (8-6) couldn't extend his five-game home winning streak, giving up seven hits and three runs in seven innings. However, the Pirates have scored only five runs with the left-hander on the mound during his six losses.
The Cubs, 6-0 losers to the White Sox on Sunday, took a 1-0 lead on Andres Blanco's two-out RBI single in the second. Theriot hit his seventh homer one batter into the third, and Bradley's run-scoring double made it 3-0 in the fourth.
Bradley, who will sit down the next two days to work with hitting coach Von Joshua on improving his .195 average as a left-handed hitter, went 2 for 4 to bump his average to .238. He was 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts in his previous six games.
- The Cubs are 3-1 against Pittsburgh.
- Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez (dislocated shoulder) is taking batting practice in PNC Park before going on a rehabilitation assignment Thursday.
- Cubs RHP Angel Guzman (triceps) might start a rehab assignment the same day.
- The Pirates are 13-13 this month. They must win Tuesday for their first winning June since 1996 (15-12).
- The Cubs don't see many crowds like this: 15,400.
- Pirates C Ryan Doumit (broken wrist) starts a rehabilitation assignment at Bradenton on Tuesday.