Bryant hits first-inning home run as Cubs sweep Pirates
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant hit his National League-leading 36th home run of the season on Wednesday.

Bryant hits first-inning home run as Cubs sweep Pirates

by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO -- With a crack of the bat in the bottom of the first, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant put his team on the scoreboard, and the North Siders never looked back, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night. Bryant’s 36th home run of the season, the first-inning blast to left field placed the young slugger into sole possession of the National League home run lead. Bryant went 2-4 with two runs on the day, as he helped lead the Cubs to a three-game sweep over the divisional rival Bucs.

Bryant’s other hit came in the bottom of the fourth, when he led off with a single to center. Later in the inning, Bryant was brought home for his second run of the evening on a single to left by Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, the middle infielder’s 86th RBI of the 2016 campaign.

Trailing 2-0, the Pirates cut their deficit in half in the fifth, as speedy Pittsburgh second baseman Josh Harrison reached base on a two-out infield single that scored third baseman Sean Rodriguez from second. Harrison was 2-5 on the night. The top of the fifth served as Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel’s only hiccup on Wednesday, with the veteran right-hander allowing only three hits and one run in six innings on the mound.

Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward got in on the offensive action in the sixth inning, driving in left fielder Jorge Soler with a single to right-center that put the Cubs up 3-1. Soler led off the inning with a double to deep center, his lone hit of the game.

Later in the inning, after Russell was walked by Pirates starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, who was charged with five earned runs in Wednesday’s outing, reliever Antonio Bastardo took Vogelsong's place on the bump and single-handedly provided the Cubs with a fairly sizable lead. In one at-bat (by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras), Bastardo made three different critical mistakes. First, a wild pitch allowed the base runners to advance one bag. Then, a balk allowed them to advance one more base, resulting in Heyward scoring a run. And, finally, Bastardo gave up a double to Contreras that scored Russell, thus giving the Cubs a commanding 5-1 lead.

Despite walking in a run with two outs, Chicago reliever Justin Grimm rescued the Cubs from a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh. Entering with the bases full and only one out, Grimm was forced to clean up Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill’s mess, and he did an adequate enough job of doing so.

Leading 5-2 upon the inception of the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs tallied another run, with Russell scoring Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo via a sacrifice fly. However, Russell’s biggest contribution in the game occurred during Grimm’s outing in the top of the seventh, with Addison aiding and abetting Grimm’s escape act by making a fairy tale catch down the left field line. Sprinting over 100 feet in a little over five seconds to catch the tricky pop-up hit by Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco, Russell sent shockwaves through the Wrigley crowd with his incredible web gem.

The Cubs found themselves in a bit of a pickle after Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer brought home two runs with his double to left in the top half of the eighth. Recent Cubs call-up Felix Pena was then looked upon to end the scoring threat, but, thanks to a throwing error on an ill-fated pickoff attempt by Contreras, the inexperienced reliever was placed securely into a nail-biting jam himself. But, with runners on second and third and two outs, the young hurler came through, forcing an inning-ending groundout and preventing any further damage from being done to the Cubs.

A theme of the night, wild pitches nearly took the game into extra innings, with Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman throwing three with runners on base in the top of the ninth. While the fireballer is known to let a pitch get away from him every now and then, Chapman’s lack of control tonight was surprising. After Pirates left fielder Startling Marte singled to right with one out, Chapman threw two errant pitches that advanced Marte all the way to third base. Thereafter, Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who went 2-5 at the dish, produced an RBI single that pushed the Bucs to within one run. Chapman then threw yet another wild pitch that moved Cervelli to second, and he walked a batter after that. With the pressure on, Chapman came through when it mattered most, though, striking out Mercer with runners on first and second to end the game and garner his 12th save as a Chicago Cub.

Although it was a mistake-riddled game for the Cubs (85-47), they still topped the Pirates (67-64) by a final score of 6-5 to collect a series sweep. Hammel, who amassed six strikeouts in the game, earned the win for his efforts to move to 14-7 overall. Vogelsong collected the loss to drop to 3-4 on the year.

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