Pittsburgh Pirates' Josh Bell rounds third after hitting a grand slam off Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Adam Warren in the fifth inning of last night's 12-6 win. (AP/Gene Puskar)
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PITTSBURGH -- Josh Bell gave his veteran manager goose bumps. He fired up a sellout crowd at PNC Park, too.
Bell's grand slam in his second major-league at bat was one of four homers by the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 12-6 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night.
Bell slugged a 1-1 pitch from Adam Warren (3-2) over the seats perched above the 21-foot wall in right for his second pinch-hit in two games since being recalled from Triple-A on Friday.
"What a fantastic sequence," said the Pirates' Clint Hurdle, who has more than 1,000 managerial wins. "I got goose bumps. I've got them probably a dozen times since I've been a coach or a manager.
"Chills went down my spine. ... Seemed like the stadium was pretty excited, too."
Jordy Mercer followed Bell's slam with a home run to make it a five-run fifth for the Pirates, who have won nine of 10 and 12 of their last 15 to move within 6 1/2 games of Chicago in the National League Central.
Andrew McCutchen and Sean Rodriguez homered earlier off suddenly struggling Cubs starter Jon Lester, the National League pitcher of the month for June. Lester has allowed 13 runs in 4 1/3 innings in July, including five in three innings Saturday.
"Terrible. Unacceptable. Letdown," Lester said, describing his outing. "Offense gives me two runs early and then gives me runs again -- and then I give it right back. Obviously a letdown, not only for myself but for the team."
Ben Zobrist had a two-run homer and Anthony Rizzo had four hits for Chicago, which has lost nine of 10 and seen its division lead dwindle to as small as its been since May.
"I feel like we're fortunate to be (up 6 1/2 games) right now, actually," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't believe it's a negative; I think it's a positive."
Chad Kuhl lasted only 2 1/3 innings in his third major-league start, surrendering Zobrist's 13th home run among seven hits allowed. But Pittsburgh's bullpen was much better as Arquimedes Caminero (1-2) struck out three in 1 2/3 innings and Jared Hughes earned his third major-league save by pitching three scoreless innings.
At least one run was scored during eight of the first 11 half-innings played on a night in which the city of Pittsburgh celebrated its bicentennial. A 25-minute fireworks display set off just a few hundred yards away at the city's Point State Park provided a soundtrack of regular rumbling booms throughout the fifth inning in which Bell and Mercer thrilled the Pirates' third sellout crowd of the season even more.
Over the past 10 days, the Pirates have scaled more than half of the 14-game hole it had dug in the NL Central. Before Saturday's game, Maddon said that he learned from former mentor John McNamara long ago that once a division lead became fewer than seven games, it was no longer safe.
"We weren't walking away with our heads down, feeling sorry for ourselves when we were getting beat through June," Hurdle said, "and we're not going to do backflips now. We're going to keep playing."
ALL-STAR COMINGS AND GOINGS
Cubs OF Dexter Fowler backed out of playing in Tuesday's All-Star game as a precaution as he recovers from a strained right hamstring that has him on the disabled list.
The Cubs recalled INF Munenori Kawasaki from Triple-A and Saturdayand optioned INF Jeimer Candelario to Iowa. Maddon said the move was made to give the team a more experienced bat off the bench.
Cubs: Maddon said Fowler did not experience a setback in a minor-league rehab appearance Friday. He also said he would have had no problem if Fowler had made his return from the disabled list in the All-Star game and not for the Cubs -- "as long as he was well enough to play, and then we got him on Friday."
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco did not play a day after being removed from a win because of an aggravation of nagging left hamstring tightness. Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Polanco likely won't start Sunday, either. ... 2B Josh Harrison was lifted from the game in the third inning. The team termed the reason as "left foot discomfort.' Harrison drove in a run the inning prior when he was hit with a fastball in the foot.
Cubs: Sunday starter RHP John Lackey has gone 0-2 with a 7.56 ERA in his past three starts after going 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA in his first 14 starts
Pirates: LHP Jonathon Niese has lost his past two home starts, allowing 13 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings during them.