Kris Bryant knocked in Matt Szczur with game winning run to close out the first half with a 6-5 victory at PNC Park
The Cubs limped in to Pittsburgh for a three-game series to wrap up the first half. The Cubs were at the end of 24 games in 24 days and were by far playing their worst ball of the year. The Cubs were out of gas and had lost seven of eight prior to the Pirates series at PNC Park.
The Bucs took the first two games. Jake Arrieta lost the opener. The Cubs were blown out on Saturday night with Jon Lester lasting only three innings and Adam Warren getting shelled for seven runs in two innings. Josh Bell delivered the big hit, a Grand Slam in the fifth.
During the 24-game in 24-day stretch, the Cubs lost their grip on the top record in baseball and the label of the best team in the game.
The Cubs entered play on Sunday, July 10 with the Pirates and Cardinals on their heels. The Pirates were just 6 ½ games back and the Cardinals were seven behind and taking on the Brewers in Milwaukee.
With the Cubs facing a must-win on the final game of the first half, Joe Maddon turned to John Lackey.
The Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run single by Addison Russell. Lackey struggled in the second and third innings. Lackey gave up three runs in the second. Willson Contreras tied the game at three in the third but Lackey gave the run right back to the Bucs. Andrew McCutchen led off the third with a solo homer and the Pirates took a 4-3 lead.
Javier Baez started the fourth with a walk against lefty Jon Niese. Albert Almora Jr. followed and hit his second big league homer, a two-run shot to left. The Cubs had a 5-4 lead. Lackey settled down and the Cubs took a one-run lead into the seventh inning.
Lackey was left in to start the seventh. After a walk to Bell and a single by John Jaso, Joe Maddon went to the pen for Pedro Strop. Starling Marte grounded out, Bell went to third and McCutchen tied the game at five with a sac fly to right field. David Freese lined out to right with the go ahead run on second base to end the inning.
Clint Hurdle had his lefty, Tony Watson start the eighth. And Matt Szczur came through with a huge pinch-hit, one-out double. With Szczur at second representing the go ahead run, Ben Zobrist failed to get a bunt down and popped it up for the second out.
Kris Bryant stepped in with the Cubs needing a knock and the eventual NL MVP delivered.
Bryant singled to left. Szczur broke on contact and slid in safe just ahead of Marte’s throw. The Cubs took a 6-5 lead.
Carl Edwards Jr. faced the minimum in the eighth and Hector Rondon retired the side in order to close out the first half with a Cubs win.
The Cubs had a 53-35 record and as it turns out, the All-Star break was exactly what they needed.
Joe Maddon’s team took two of three from the Rangers, Mets and Brewers to start the second half and split the four games with the Sox before ending July with the extra-innings walk-off against the Mariners.
The Cubs did not lose more than two games in a row the remainder of the season and throughout the postseason.
The win at PNC Park on the last day of the first half snapped the Cubs longest losing streak of the season (five games). Little was known at the time how big that victory against the Pirates was, much less what was in store for the Cubs in the second half of the season.