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Cubs 7, Pirates 1: A big-league performance in the Little League Classic

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That’s how the Cubs can, should, and hopefully will play every day from here on out.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Maddon has coined a lot of pithy and worthwhile sayings in his time as manager of the Cubs. One of them, a mantra for his ballplayers to live by, is: “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure.”

This looks like pleasure for Anthony Rizzo, doesn’t it?

The Cubs seemed to completely embrace all the fun they had in hanging out with kids and watching Little League games before the Little League Classic Sunday night.

Then they took that fun out on the field and pitched and hit their way to a convincing 7-1 win over the Pirates, finally, finally winning a road series, their first since May.

They wasted no time taking the lead in this game. Nicholas Castellanos was the second Cubs batter Sunday night [VIDEO].

Fun fact time!

In the third inning, Jason Heyward joined the Williamsport home-run club [VIDEO].

Meanwhile, Jose Quintana was mowing down Pirates hitters. He allowed just one hit through three, with another Pirate reaching on an error. The Cubs extended their lead in the fourth. Rizzo led off with a walk and Javier Baez doubled him to third. Kyle Schwarber made it 4-0 Cubs [VIDEO].

That was a really nice piece of opposite-field hitting, finding a hole where the Pirates defense wasn’t.

Then the Cubs put the game away in the fifth. Heyward led off with a walk and one out later, Kris Bryant doubled him in [VIDEO].

That knocked Pirates starter Mitch Keller out of the game in favor of Chris Stratton. Three pitches later, the Cubs had two more runs courtesy of Rizzo [VIDEO].

You likely noticed there were no pitch speeds recorded on the broadcast; there was no MLB equipment for this at Bowman Field and neither was there any device to measure home-run distances, but that one... man, that one probably went 440 feet. It bounced off the video board in left-center and that’s why Rizzo was able to do this:

Now how cool is that? Anthony Rizzo is someone who really, truly loves baseball and understands what it means to kids. We are lucky to have him as a Cub. I hope one day soon, he’ll be signed to a contract extension that assures he never plays a game for anyone else.

Quintana had his fourth straight excellent outing, which has lowered his ERA from 4.47 entering August to 3.91. August numbers: four starts, 26 innings, four earned runs (1.38 ERA) 0.769 WHIP, one (!) walk and 33 strikeouts. Also, this:

Quintana finished with seven outstanding innings, five hits allowed, no walks, only two Pirates past first base.

Derek Holland threw an uneventful eighth, but in the ninth, here’s where we open the complaint department door, maybe just a tiny bit.

Joe decided to use Craig Kimbrel to finish up. I understand the concept here: Kimbrel came back from the injured list without a rehab assignment, so in some ways this was like a rehab outing for him. It did not start out well. Starling Marte hit Kimbrel’s first pitch out of the yard, ruining the shutout. Then Kimbrel hit Cole Tucker with a pitch. He recovered to strike out the next two hitters and was then removed, likely because Joe didn’t want him throwing too many pitches.

Kimbrel might not have had too much fun in this game, but the Little League kids seemed to enjoy imitating his pitching stance [VIDEO].

Pedro Strop, who has struggled almost all year, replaced Kimbrel and allowed a walk and a single, loading the bases. Now don’t lie — you were actually worried about the game at this point, despite a six-run lead.

But Pedro struck out Melky Cabrera to end it, and at last, the Cubs had a series win on the road. (Yes, it’s “on the road” despite this game being at a neutral site. The game was not at Wrigley Field, thus it’s a road game for the Cubs.) Weird Cubs road stat:

This, despite being 15 games under .500 (25-39) on the road. Mostly, that’s from winning a lot of blowouts on the road (including one on the just-completed trip) and losing a lot of close games away from Wrigley. There are 17 away games remaining. Hopefully that changes the next time the Cubs hit the road.

About the uniforms the Cubs wore Sunday: I love them. Nicely designed and a cool tribute to Little League uni’s, and since the Cubs won wearing them, I think they should wear them for all those 17 remaining road games. (I’m kidding. Mostly.)

About the ESPN broadcast: Beyond the incessant yakking that distracted from the game, why was Mike Mussina in the booth? He has no connection to either team, and it seemed he was there simply so he and A-Rod could reminisce about their time together with the Yankees. This also distracted from game coverage, a poor choice by ESPN.

The Cardinals won their game Sunday so the Cubs remain in a virtual tie for first place, one percentage point behind. The Brewers lost, crushed by the Nationals (who hit eight home runs!), and fell to two games behind. The Brewers and Cardinals, who have not played each other since April, will now meet six times over the next 10 days. (Thanks, schedule-makers.) Their first set begins tonight in St. Louis. For now, probably the best outcome would be for the Brewers to win two of three while the Cubs are taking care of business at Wrigley against the Giants.

The Little League Classic experience seemed to energize the Cubs in every way. The whole thing seemed well-organized for both the big-league players and Little Leaguers and everyone appeared to have an awesome time. Here are postgame comments from Rizzo and Quintana [VIDEO].

It wasn’t a great road trip at 4-6, but at least the Cubs won the final two games and appear to be ready to go on a winning run. They will have Monday off and then open a three-game series against the Giants Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. Cole Hamels will start for the Cubs and Tyler Beede gets the call for the Giants. Game time Tuesday is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago Plus.