Despite Rizzo's heroics, Cubs come up short versus Pirates
|Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 10:38 PM- -|
PITTSBURGH -- Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is having an MVP-caliber start to the 2017 season, mostly due to his propensity to come up with clutch hits in nail-biting situations. Tonight was no exception, as a two-run shot in the eighth brought what was once a sizable Cubs deficit down to one run, but it proved to not be enough. Hindered by a lackluster start from Jon Lester, who allowed five runs and 10 hits in 5.2 innings while toeing the rubber, the Cubs squandered a 12-hit night by falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5.
Cubs starting pitchers have struggled so far this season in terms of allowing a conspicuously high amount of early-inning home runs, and that trend surfaced again tonight, as Lester allowed Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison to crank his second homer of the season in the first at-bat of the game. Lester continued to struggle thereafter, giving up a two-out RBI double from catcher Francisco Cervelli later in the inning and two additional RBI doubles in the second inning en route to the Pirates taking a 5-1 lead into the third.
Chicago hitters jumped on Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow early, as well, but were not quite able to open the floodgates at the plate. The Cubs missed out on a bases-loaded opportunity in the first and converted a situation that saw Cubs runners on second and third with one out into only one run in the second. Cubs second baseman Javier Báez led off the second frame with a double and was later brought home after first baseman Anthony Rizzo got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Báez finished the game 2-5 and has now scored seven runs on the season.
Those missed opportunities for more runs would come back to bite the Cubs, as the Pirates racked Lester in the second. The veteran lefty gave up two hits and a walk through the first four batters of the inning to enable the Pirates to take a 3-1 lead and place Chicago into a major logjam. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras contributed to the dire straits faced by the North Siders, too, by suffering a passed ball that scored a Bucs base runner and added to Pitt's growing advantage. Soon after, with his only hit of the night, Pirates slugger Andrew McCutchen increased the lead to 5-1 on a crushed double to deep right.
Kris Bryant, who had an excellent 3-4 showing on the evening, cut into the deficit in the fourth with an RBI double that chased Glasnow from the game. The ensuing pitching change did not prevent Rizzo from driving in Bryant with a single off of Wade LeBlanc, setting the tone for Rizzo's heroics later in the game. Pirates first baseman Josh Bell made Rizzo's RBI hit moot in the bottom half of the sixth, though, with a solo shot to left-center that effectively put a bow on Lester's miserable experience on the hill and put the Pirates up 6-3. Bell's round-tripper ultimately served as the game-winning hit.
An incredibly cool moment took place in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Pirates second baseman Gift Ngoepe, who had only just been inserted into the game in the top half of the inning, collected a hit in his first career at-bat. A native of South Africa, Ngoepe is the first African-born player to suit up in an MLB game, and his storybook hit marks one of the great moments of the 2017 season so far. He finished the game 1-2 with a walk.
Daniel Hudson took the hill for the Pirates in the top of the eighth and was soon struck with a rude awakening, as the dynamic Bryzzo duo made life difficult for him. Bryant hit a one-out single that brought Rizzo to the plate with a chance to pull the Cubs to within a run, and he did just that. Hitting his fifth home run of the year, and accruing his 14th and 15th RBI of the season in the process, Rizzo hit a two-run home run to dead right that decreased Chicago's deficit to one run.
However, Rizzo's four-RBI night and his critical homer were both wasted, as Chicago was unable to complete its comeback. In the ninth, pinch hitter Albert Almora had a chance to be a hero after the Cubs received a gift on a Pirates fielding error that put runners on first and second with one out. But Almora came up small when it mattered most, hitting into a game-ending double play that sunk the Cubs.
Winning 6-5, the Pirates (9-12) avoided a home sweep by holding off the feisty Cubs (12-9) and their valiant late-game effort. Lester received his first decision of the season as a result of it. Needless to say, he was handed a loss for his efforts. On the flip side, although he was victimized by Rizzo during his outing, LeBlanc received the win, and Pirates closer Tony Watson earned a save.