Cubs

Cubs erupt in ninth, rally to beat Pirates

Cubs erupt in ninth, rally to beat Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Anthony Rizzo just missed a chance at making history at the start of the game but was happy with the ending.

Rizzo almost led off his third straight game with a homer, losing his bid after a replay review, before helping key a six-run rally in the ninth inning that sent the Chicago Cubs over the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-5 on Friday night.

The Cubs won for just the third time in nine games, putting the World Series champions back at .500 with a 33-33 mark.

Manager Joe Maddon wasn't around to see the comeback - he was ejected in the first inning after Rizzo's drive into the Allegheny River was initially called fair, then ruled foul. In Rizzo's first two tries as a leadoff man in his seven-year career, the slugging first baseman who usually bats cleanup led off both games this week with home runs against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

The record for most consecutive games with a leadoff home run is three by Brady Anderson in 1996 for the Baltimore Orioles.

"That was absolutely a home run," Rizzo said. "There is no way it could have gone over the pole foul because this is one of the shortest right fields in the league. I hit it too hard for it to have time to go foul.

"I respect the umpires and I never like to criticize them because I know they give their very best but they got that one wrong. At least, we won the game and that's all that really matters."

Chicago trailed 4-3 until Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras began the ninth with doubles off Juan Nicasio (1-3) to tie it. Tony Watson, who was removed as the closer last week in favor of a Nicasco-Felipe Rivero combo, gave up a go-ahead single to pinch-hitter Jon Jay.

"They just came in aggressively and made their hits and their swings," said Nicasio, who was charged with four runs without recording an out. "No excuses. I threw my pitches where I wanted them. They did their part."

Rizzo added a two-run single, extending his hitting streak to 10 games, and Addison Russell had a two-run double.

"It seemed like everybody contributed in that inning," Russell said. "That's the type of offense I know we can be when everyone is clicking."

Closer Wade Davis gave up a run in the ninth, but struck out Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco with the bases loaded to end it.

Koji Uehera (2-3) pitched a scoreless inning.

Tommy La Stella and Ian Happ, who grew up in Pittsburgh and was playing his first game at PNC Park, had two hits each for the Cubs. La Stella had a single in the ninth.

Josh Bell hit his 12th homer and a two-run triple to help the Pirates rally from 3-0 deficit. Andrew McCutchen also had two hits, including a single in the sixth that scored Bell and put Pittsburgh ahead 4-3.

Cubs starter Eddie Butler allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings. The Pirates' Trevor Williams went five innings and gave up three runs.

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."