Jason Heyward stood on second base, representing the go-head run.
Matt Duffy, pinch-hitting for the pitcher, was the Cubs’ last chance to drive him in.
Duffy poked a slider into shallow right field, and Heyward took off. He flew around third base, racing the throw to home plate. Picking an outside lane, Heyward dodge the catcher, sliding head-first and swiping the plate with his left hand. Safe.
Duffy had done it again.
The utility infielder drove in what would be the winning run in the Cubs’ 3-2 victory against the Pirates on Saturday.
“He’s been huge,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Duffy’s influence this season. “I guess that’s an understatement.”
A little over a month ago, when even Duffy was surprised he made the Opening Day roster, Ross’ statement would have raised some eyebrows. But in his past 17 games, Duffy is batting .364 and has scored 11 runs.
On Saturday, he extended his RBI streak to three games, all one-run Cubs wins. Against the Dodgers on Wednesday, Duffy drove in the tying run. A few days later, it was the winning run.
“We're deep in on the bench as well as in the field,” Ross said. “We know the accolades from the guys that play every day, but the role players have really done a nice job of filling in.”
Outfielder Ian Happ, infielder Nico Hoerner and catcher Austin Romine all landing on the injured list in the past week has tested the Cubs’ position player depth. But bench players like Duffy, outfielder Jake Marisnick and backup catcher Tony Wolters have steadied the lineup in their absence. The Cubs are on a five-game win streak.
Four of those five games, the Cubs have won by one run. And they’ve done so with a tilt toward contact hitting – Duffy’s specialty. The Cubs’ last 16 hits have been singles.
“If you are down one run with two outs in the ninth, I’m probably not the guy that you want up to the plate,” said an introspective Duffy, outlining the perfect situation for a power hitter. “But if there's a runner on third with two outs, or a runner on with one out, and you need the ball in play, maybe I’m your guy.”
He was definitely the Cubs’ guy Saturday, with a runner on in the seventh inning and two outs. Heyward, who Duffy insisted won the Cubs the game, got on base before Duffy by working a nine-pitch walk. Heyward later stole second base to move into scoring position.
“You steal that base right there for a reason,” Heyward said. “Just give yourself a chance, give your team a chance to come up with a big knock. And I expect Duff to do what he does.”
Duffy had used a first-pitch take to pick up Pirates reliever Clay Holmes’ release point.
“From there, it's just keeping it simple,” Duffy said, “bat on the ball, try to drive the ball over his left shoulder.”
That’s exactly what Duffy did.
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