Cubs walk off versus Pirates, make playoffs for fourth straight season

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Coming through in the clutch, Albert Almora Jr. swung on an 0-2 count and delivered a game-winning hit. (Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports)
Coming through in the clutch, Albert Almora Jr. swung on an 0-2 count and delivered a game-winning hit. (Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO — In a game that featured everything from unruly fans to a clinched playoff berth, the Chicago Cubs survived the Pittsburgh Pirates, thanks to a walk-off single by Albert Almora Jr. in the 10th inning. After blowing a 6-2 lead over the course of the eight and ninth innings, the Cubs converted a leadoff walk in the 10th into a thrilling walk-off finish to top the Pirates 7-6 at Wrigley Field.

Wednesday's affair was one of the more interesting games of the Cubs' 2018 season. While it looked like the Cubs would win comfortably after they went up 6-1 in the fourth, the Buccos put together a late surge to force extra innings. During the course of the contest, the Cubs earned a playoff berth by way of the Milwaukee Brewers defeating the St. Louis Cardinals. However, with the win, the Brewers also briefly knotted the Cubs up atop the National League Central standings, thus exemplifying the heavy implications surrounding the Cubs-Pirates clash.

Just like they did in the previous two games, the Pirates hit an early home run in the third game of a four-game set with the Cubs. Jose Osuna skied a dinger to left in the opening inning off Cubs starter Jose Quintana. Quintana settled down after that and went on to pitch five innings of four-hit ball.

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward neutralized Osuna's bomb with a two-run shot of his own in the bottom of the first. Marking Heyward's first home run in over two months, the round-tripper to left provided the Cubs with their first lead of the series.

In the third, the Cubs tacked on two more runs after loading the bases with no outs. Following two singles to start the frame, Javier Baez reached as a result of a fielding error suffered by the Bucs. Thereafter, Anthony Rizzo skied a sacrifice fly to center that brought David Bote home. Then, with two outs, Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber drew consecutive walks, with Schwarber's walk allowing Daniel Murphy to come home and score to put the Cubs up 4-1.

The next inning saw the Cubs produce a two-out rally. Murphy hit a two-out single and proceeded to steal second base. Next, Baez scored Murphy on a base knock to left, and, following a single off the bat of Rizzo, Heyward tallied another RBI with a single to right-center that ushered Baez in to score. Quintana gave up another solo blast to lead off the fifth, as Corey Dickerson drilled a long ball beyond center field, cutting Pittsburgh's deficit to four.

Pittsburgh next pushed runs across in the eighth, when Cubs relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Steve Cishek combined for a shaky inning. Edwards walked two batters before being pulled, and Cishek went on to give up a critical two-run single to Elias Diaz with two outs. Trailing 6-4 entering the ninth inning, the Pirates benefited from a instance of fan interference.

Cubs reliever Justin Wilson was granted the save opportunity in the ninth and did not take advantage of it. After giving up a one-out single, Wilson was taken for a double by Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli. Narrowly missing out on being a home run, the two-bagger hit off the top of the right-field wall. Wilson remained in the game, though, and forced an infield popup soon afterward.

With two outs, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte hit a towering foul ball to the first-base side of home plate that Rizzo got a bead on. Rizzo raced over to the seats and positioned himself to make the winning catch. However, a supposed Cubs fan also attempted to catch the ball, and, consequentially, he knocked Rizzo's glove out of the way and prevented the game-ending snag from taking place.

Interestingly, earlier in the game, a couple of idiotic Cubs fans delayed the game by running onto the field, evidently celebrating the Cubs clinching a playoff spot. Both fans were quickly corralled by security personnel, allowing play to continue.

Moments after the incident in foul ground, Rizzo suffered another misfortune involving his glove, as a game-tying double by Marte grazed off the top of the first baseman's mitt and into right field, thereby bringing two runs across. Despite the disheartening ninth inning, the Cubs, who went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, came alive in the 10th frame.

For the second time in the contest, Happ collected a pivotal walk. This time, the base on balls was of the leadoff variety. Designated pinch runner Terrance Gore then came in to run for Happ, and he eventually made it to third base via a sacrifice bunt and a groundout. That paved the way for Almora to come up with one of his biggest hits of the season. Facing an 0-2 count, Almora swung at a four-seamer thrown over the plate by Richard Rodriguez and drilled it through the 5-6 hole for a walk-off single.

Winning 7-6 in 10 innings, the Cubs held onto their slight lead in the division, with their record currently standing at 92-66. The Pirates dropped to 80-77 with the close loss, and Rodriguez fell to 4-3 overall. Almora's lone hit of the night proved to be the most important hit of the night, as it allowed Gore to cross the plate with ease and make up for the turmoil suffered by the North Siders in the eighth and ninth frames.

The Cubs tallied 12 hits and four walks in an effective offensive performance. Chicago reliever Brandon Kintzler, who forced the Pirates to hit into a crucial inning-ending double play in the top of the 10th, improved to 3-3 by receiving the winning decision. The playoff berth secured by Chicago ensured that the Cubs will take part in their fourth consecutive postseason, which is a franchise record.

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