PITTSBURGH -- Carlos Marmol most likely will keep it interesting in the ninth inning the rest of the season. At least he listened to his pitching coach.
The Pirates had two on and one out in the ninth Thursday, and had closed to within two runs against Marmol, who had been pulled from Monday's game after failing to convert a save. Chicago pitching coach Chris Bosio then went to the mound. The message?
"Strike him out and get a ground ball," Marmol said, "and that's exactly what happened."
Well, not exactly. Marmol gave up an RBI single to Gaby Sanchez, then struck out Pedro Alvarez and finally got Neil Walker to ground into a game-ending double play as the Cubs held on for a 3-2 victory Thursday, taking the first series of the season.
"Their closer has been struggling -- as he's known to when things get a little tough," Pittsburgh's Russell Martin said. "We were one good swing from taking that game away."
Marmol knew that, and pumped his fist to celebrate as the Cubs converted the final outs.
"He gave up hits, but it wasn't like he was throwing the ball all over the place," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of his closer, who kept his job another day. "For the most part, we know things like that can get interesting with him. ... He got the ground ball when he needed it.
"He was OK," Sveum said. "It didn't seem that way, but it wasn't too bad."
Sveum, who apparently has a high tolerance for stress-related innings, pointed out that Marmol wasn't exactly "pitch efficient" last season, either. It's been a difficult few days for Marmol after Monday's outing when Kyuji Fujikawa finished and picked up the save.
"It's tough, but I'm still fighting," Marmol said. "I'm still fighting. ... The point is, we won. I got out of that jam."
The Cubs didn't exactly solve their offensive struggles Thursday, but were more efficient. Nate Schierholtz hit a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth and Starlin Castro delivered a two-out RBI single in the third to back Travis Wood, who tossed six scoreless innings.
Chicago entered the game 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position in its first two games.
"We haven't had real bad at-bats, but we obviously haven't had the results," Sveum said. "Your approach is to get elevation with men in scoring position, whether it's third or whatever, you get something in the air and don't ground out to the corners. Pitchers are always trying to get you to ground out to the corner. You want to get the ball up, out over the plate."
Castro ended the skid in the third. With two outs and Wood at second after a single and groundout, Castro delivered a RBI single to center off James McDonald (0-1). Schierholtz homered in the ninth off Jared Hughes, and drove in Anthony Rizzo, who had walked and stole second. It was Schierholtz's first home run since Aug. 1, when he connected off current teammate Edwin Jackson, who was pitching for the Nationals.
"I knew it was a big run on second," Schierholtz said. "I was just trying to get something good to hit and put it in play and get that runner home. 'Woody' pitched a great game today and kept us right there the whole game. It's a good win to get."
The Cubs didn't waste their chances, and went 2-for-2 with RISP.
"We're 1.000 today -- we're climbing," Sveum said.
Part of the offensive struggles Wednesday night could be blamed on the cold. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano said he couldn't feel his hands or feet. On Thursday, the game-time temperature was a more tolerant 45 degrees.
Wood (1-0) looked comfortable. A year ago at this time, he was prepping for Triple-A Iowa's season, having missed in a bid for a spot in the Cubs rotation. On Thursday, he walked two and gave up one hit, a double to Clint Barmes with one out in the third.
"I had good fastball command and was able to locate it both sides and keep them off balance," Wood said. "It's great to start off the season up here and get off to a good start and hopefully keep rolling."
The lefty fanned four over six innings, including Andrew McCutchen on three pitches in the fourth.
"We got enough pitches to hit," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "We just couldn't do anything with them."
Pittsburgh's first scoring opportunity came in the seventh when McCutchen reached on a fielding error by third baseman Luis Valbuena, then stole second and third. But he was stranded as James Russell got Alvarez to pop up and Walker was called out on strikes.
With the win, the Cubs claimed their first season-opening series victory since the start of the 2009 season, when they took two of three against the Astros.
"Our goal is to win every game, and win every series," Schierholtz said. "It's a good start."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.