Game Eighty-Eight – Cubs 6, Pirates 5
WP – Pedro Strop (2-2, BS 4) LP – Tony Watson (1-3) Save – Hector Rondon (14)
Matt Szczur pinch-hit with one out in the eighth with the game tied at five. Szczur doubled off lefty reliever Tony Watson. Kris Bryant made the Pirates pay for pitching to him. Bryant singled to left and the Cubs took a 6-5 lead after Szczur slid in ahead of Starling Marte’s throw. Carl Edwards Jr. faced the minimum in the eighth and Hector Rondon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning as the Cubs beat the Pirates on Sunday afternoon.
Two of the heavyweights in the National League went toe-to-toe in the third and final game of the series. The Cubs and Pirates exchanged blows all afternoon. On Sunday, it was the Cubs that was the last team standing when the final bell rung.
The Cubs snapped the five-game skid by out hitting the Pirates. The Cubs scored six runs on 15 hits and it could have been more. The Cubs left too many runners on base and wasted several scoring opportunities (3-for-12 with RISP, nine men left on base) but with the way the Cubs have played over the last week a win is a win and Joe Maddon’s team needed one.
John Lackey completed six innings and pitched into the seventh. Lackey did not allow the game to get out of hand. Lackey was charged with five runs on seven hits (two home runs) and two walks. Lackey struck out nine on 113 pitches, 73 for strikes.
The Cubs jumped on Jon Niese in the first inning and put two runs on the board. Ben Zobrist (1-for-5 with a run scored) led off with a single to left center. After Kris Bryant (3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a RBI) popped out to first, Anthony Rizzo (4-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored) singled to right center. Willson Contreras (1-for-5 with a RBI) singled to center. Andrew McCutchen misplayed the liner. The ball hit off his glove and the Cubs loaded the bases with one out.
Addison Russell (2-for-5 with two RBI) smoked a 3-2 pitch off David Freese’s glove. The ball ended up in left field. Zobrist and Rizzo scored, 2-0 Cubs. With runners on the corner’s and one down, Jason Heyward (0-for-5) struck out swinging. And Javier Baez (1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run scored) went down swinging to end the inning.
The Pirates took a 3-2 lead in the second inning after a solo homer from Sean Rodriguez, a double by Eric Fryer and a bloop single from John Jaso.
The Cubs went back to work against Niese in the third inning. Bryant led off the third with a walk and went to third on a double to right from Rizzo. Pirates’ rookie Adam Frazier misplayed the ball that should have been caught into an extra basehit. Willson Contreras put the ball in play and was actually robbed of a double by Jaso at first base. Bryant broke on contact and scored the tying run. The Cubs left Rizzo at third to end the inning.
The Pirates took the lead right back in the bottom of the third. Andrew McCutchen broke the 3-3 tie with a solo homer to center field. Lackey did not allow the Pirates to tack on. Lackey retired Freese (swinging strikeout), Rodriguez (strikeout looking) and Frazier (grounder to first base) to end the inning.
Javier Baez led off the fourth with a walk. Albert Almora Jr. (2-for-4 with a double, a home run and two RBI) stepped in and launched a 1-1 pitch from Jon Niese to deep left. Almora Jr.’s second career homer, a two-run shot gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead.
John Lackey retired the Pirates in order in the fourth. With the way Cubs pitching struggled to hold a lead all weekend, the fourth inning was a turning point in the game. Lackey pitched out of a jam in the fifth inning and set the Pirates down in order again in the sixth.
The Cubs took a 5-4 lead into the seventh inning. Lackey started the inning after throwing 99 pitches, 64 for strikes, in the first six innings. Josh Bell hit for Neftali Feliz and Lackey walked him (from 0-2 to 4-2). The Cubs allowed the rookie to impact the series too much and will have to make him very uncomfortable at the plate the next time he’s up when the Pirates play the Cubs.
John Jaso followed the walk to Bell with a single to center. Maddon went to the mound, and brought in Pedro Strop. Starling Marte grounded a 0-1 pitch to third. Javier Baez fielded the ball cleanly but instead of starting an around the horn double play, Baez decided to run Bell back toward second. Baez eventually flipped to Zobrist and got the out. But he waited too long to double up Marte. Bell raced to third and slid in ahead of Rizzo’s throw across the diamond.
Andrew McCutchen stepped in and hit a routine fly to right. Jason Heyward made an unbelievable throw to the plate, but Bell slid in just ahead of Contreras’ tag and tied the game at five. Strop retired Freese on a liner to right to end the inning.
The Cubs went right back to work in the top of the eighth with the game tied at five. Matt Szczur (1-for-1 with a double and a run scored) came through with a huge pinch-hit double. Szczur batted for Strop with one out and pulled a 2-1 pitch from Tony Watson off the base of the wall in left center. In just about every other park in the majors it would have been a home run. Zobrist, for some unknown reason, tried to bunt his way on and popped out to Watson for the second out.
Kris Bryant pulled a 1-1 pitch to left. Szczur scored, 6-5 Cubs. With Bryant at second, Rizzo made his first out of the afternoon. Rizzo grounded out to second base.
Carl Edwards Jr. faced the minimum in the eighth after a misplayed ball in the dirt by Willson Contreras allowed Adam Frazier to reach to start the inning. With Frazier running and one out, Jordy Mercer hit a liner to Heyward and he doubled off the rookie to end the inning.
Hector Rondon was very sharp in the ninth. Rondon struck out the first two batters he faced, pinch-hitters Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang. John Jaso grounded a 3-2 pitch back up the middle. Zobrist ranged behind the bag and made an off balance throw to Rizzo to end the game.
Dust off the flag! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!
With Sunday’s win, the Cubs improved to 53-35 on the season.
The Cubs next game is not until Friday afternoon (1:20pm CDT) at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to face the Rangers.
Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell will play Tuesday night in the All-Star Game. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are on the NL roster. And Dexter Fowler will be recognized as an All-Star for the excellent first half he had.