Much of the discussion between yesterday’s Cubs victory and tonight’s contest centered around the slide of Anthony Rizzo into catcher Elias Díaz. Meatheads from across the country called for Rizzo to be beaned at some point of the contest. MLB vindicated the Pirates when it announced that the slide should have been called interference, as Rizzo deviated from his path to the plate. Joe Maddon probably didn’t help matters out by openly disagreeing with the interpretation. So…would the Pirates exact revenge? It’s kinda hard to tell, actually. Rizzo was not hit, though he was close to being hit on ball four of an eighth inning walk. Was it intentional? Willson Contreras, the next batter was hit, and then Javier Báez received a high-and-tight pitch as well. For their part, the 7,000 or so Pirates fans who showed up booed Rizzo to no avail.
So with all that to digest, the Cubs and Pirates had a game of baseball to play.
The Cubs made an attempt at a two-out rally in the top of the first inning. Kris Bryant got it going with a single, which was followed up by a double by Anthony Rizzo. Unfortunately, right fielder Austin Meadows was able to get the ball in quickly enough that Bryant could not score. Willson Contreras was then hit by a pitch to load the bases for Ian Happ – who would not have a very good inning. Happ flew out to end the inning.
It got pretty ugly in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Austin Meadows drove a ball to center field. Ian Happ didn’t pick up a ball that should have been caught on the edge of the warning track. As it was, it ended up being yet another misplayed double. The Pirates were aggressive all night, swinging early in the count. The next pitch was ripped down the line by Starling Marte to plate Meadows. 1-0 Pirates. Josh Bell followed that with a first-pitch single to center field, which brought home Marte. 2-0 Pirates. Lester managed to get out of the inning with a David Freese force out (Lester bounced a throw to second, and the turn was not fast enough to complete two), and Sean Rodriguez flew out to end the inning.
The expression on Addison Russell’s face was just too much to pass up on this one.
Meanwhile, Pirates pitcher Nick Kingham settled in in, and baffled the Cubs early. He worked quickly, and relatively efficiently for the first four innings, looking his strongest in the third inning when he struck out the side of Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, and Kris Bryant, 1-2-3. The Pirates would add to their lead in the bottom of the second, as Elias Díaz smacked a no-doubt homer to left field. With the Pirates batting aggressively, and Kingham’s relative dominance, the first four innings flew by, in just over one hour of game play. Commissioner Manfred would be proud.
The Cubs finally broke through in the top of the fifth inning, and it was the pitcher Lester who set the table. With one out, he singled to right field. Ben Zobrist followed with a home run over the 21-foot wall in right field to make the score 3-2. It’s nice to see Zobrist have a nice bit of success this year after a rough 2017. He reminds me of a guy I played softball with when I was still in my younger 20s. Harold was in his 50s already, but in good shape. We called him “Legs” because he still had decent wheels. He could also cheat on a pitch and hit it right down either line for a sure extra-base hit. Zobrist looked to “cheat” on his dinger tonight in order to get out in front of it, and it got the Cubs back in this one. Kyle Schwarber followed up with a solid double to right-center, but the Cubs could not get him home.
Austin Meadows didn’t let the Cubs celebrate for too long, though. The kid nicely battled back from an 0-2 count before depositing a home run on to the concourse beyond the right center field fence. The Pirates led 4-2.
Lester got the run back himself. Jason Heyward smacked a two-out double down the right field line, and scored one batter later when Lester smacked his second hit of the night to right field. That chased Kingham from the game in favor of Tyler Glasnow. After a Zobrist walk, Schwarber struck out on a change up low and away to end the inning.
Lester worked around a two-out double in the bottom of the sixth, and the Cubs offense came through for him in the top of the seventh. Against righty Edgar Santana Anthony Rizzo continued to play the villain with a towering home run directly to a gloved Cubs fan sitting in an unlikely position to catch a ball. The Pirates asked for a review of the play to make sure that the fan did not reach over the railing to catch the ball – the 21-foot tall mark, as mentioned above – but the home run call stood. The Cubs kept it going, as Willson Contreras smacked a line drive single to right-center. Ian Happ then drove ball to deep left-center for a double, scoring Contreras to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead. After an Addison Russell fly-out, Jason Heyward struck his THIRD hit of the night to right to score Happ. Just like that, the Cubs led by two runs, 6-4.
By the way, that quick pace just ground to a halt. It got worse in the top of the eighth inning when Michael Feliz came in to pitch for Pittsburgh. He was greeted by Zobrist with a double down the right field line. Schwarber followed with his rendition of the Gong Show, smoking a ball off the right field fair pole that made for a reverberating noise – a real life “Ding Dong Johnson,” to borrow a description from Pedro Martinez. 8-4 Cubs. After Bryant lined out to deep center field, Feliz lost complete control of his pitches. He walked Anthony Rizzo on four pitches, with the fourth nearly hitting the Cubs first baseman. Feliz then hit Willson Contreras in the upper arm – the second time on the night. Feliz’s wildness not only slowed down the game, but there were two mound visits in the inning. The second featured a trip by the team trainer to check him out, though I guess he was alright. Javier Baez struck out attempting to hit the ball out of the state of Pennsylvania, and Russell was unlucky, as his line drive was hit directly at first baseman Josh Bell.
That was more than enough for the Cubs bullpen, though it did get dicey late. Carl Edwards Jr. pitched a scoreless seventh inning, and likewise Steve Cishek in the eighth. For about the first time this season we saw a chink in the armor of Brian Duensing, as he gave up two base runners with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Brandon Morrow was summoned to close out the game, and he was far from perfect, as well. He allowed an infield single to load the bases, and then Starling Marte singled to center to drive in two runs, making it just a two-run lead. Morrow settled down, however, and ended the game on a strike out and infield popup. Dozens of Pirates fans went home disappointed.
So the Cubs won three straight games, and look to pick up a full game on Milwaukee (as of this writing, they trail 6-1 in the 9th). Let’s see if Kyle Hendricks can keep the streak going against Joe Musgrove. First pitch tomorrow night is at 6:05.
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