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Cubs 3, Pirates 2: A total team effort

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The Cubs had just enough in the tank to beat the Pirates and got major contributions from the bench.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The 2021 Cubs are turning into a ballclub where all 25 guys contribute important play on a regular basis.

Saturday, it was a pitcher not on the Opening Day roster and an afterthought of a minor-league signing who had key performances in the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Pirates, their second straight win by that score and fifth consecutive victory overall.

Trevor Williams began the day on an up note by striking out the side after allowing a leadoff single to Adam Frazier.

Then the Cubs offense got to work in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez singled. Anthony Rizzo walked to load the bases and then this familiar sight happened to Willson Contreras [VIDEO].

It was Willson’s sixth HBP of the year, tying him for the league lead with Jackie Bradley Jr.

Right after that, Jason Heyward hit a sharp line drive that was speared by Pirates first baseman Colin Moran. Moran limped off the field; hope he’s OK:

The teams traded scoreless innings in the second and third. The Pirates, though, took the lead in the fourth on a two-run homer by Ka’ai Tom, his first MLB home run.

The Cubs struck right back, beginning with a Contreras single, after which he stole second. Jason Heyward struck out, but David Bote singled Willson to third where he scored on this sac fly by Eric Sogard [VIDEO].

The throw to the plate got away, allowing Bote to take second. Nick Martini was sent to bat for Williams, who had thrown a lot of pitches in that two-run fourth and 83 overall. It wasn’t a bad outing for Williams, but it wasn’t really a good one, either.

Back to the inning at hand, where there was a really bad play — Bote got himself picked off to end the inning, which is a bad play on three different levels:

  • It took the Cubs out of possibly scoring another run
  • It wasted Martini, because he was batting for the pitcher and a new pitcher was going to come in
  • It forced that new pitcher to lead off the fourth inning.

This could have been a key play had the Cubs lost the game; instead, it’s a footnote and the complaint department door is now closed. But seriously, you simply cannot get picked off in that situation. That was one of the worst Cubs TOOTBLANs I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Thankfully, Keegan Thompson, that new pitcher, threw three outstanding innings. He allowed two singles and a walk and only one Pirate got past first base. Thompson has now had two really good outings this week and he’s got to be a candidate for next year’s rotation. In any event, he’s a very valuable guy to have around in the bullpen.

The game went into the last of the seventh, then, still tied 2-2. Heyward led off with a walk, and after two strikeouts, Matt Duffy batted for Thompson. Importantly, Heyward then stole second.

That led to this hit by Duffy [VIDEO].

That was great baserunning by Heyward. The play was reviewed and ruled “call stands,” but it didn’t look like Pirates catcher Michael Perez ever touched Heyward.

About Duffy: He gives you a quality at-bat every single time. That hit was perfectly placed on a slider on the outside edge of the plate. Duffy is such a smart hitter. He’s never going to hit for much power, but he can do things like that and play solid defense at several positions. He and Jake Marisnick are probably Jed Hoyer’s two best offseason moves.

Incidentally, on the throw to the plate Duffy took second, another smart play to put himself in scoring position, but Joc Pederson struck out to end the inning.

When the Cubs took the field for the eighth, Marisnick went to center and Bryant to left. With Pederson having made the last out, it made sense to put the pitcher in his spot and make the defensive switches, but also, Ildemaro Vargas, who had batted for Sogard, took the field at shortstop.

Wait, what? Where’s Javy?

Okay, fair enough, it was yet another cold and windy afternoon at the ballyard, and this kind of move thus makes sense. Andrew Chafin threw a scoreless eighth, the Cubs couldn’t add any runs in the bottom of the inning, and so it was Craig Kimbrel time for the ninth.

He recorded the first two outs on five pitches, then walked Phillip Evans. Up came Todd Frazier, who used to torture Cubs pitchers when he was with the Reds and Mets. Frazier had come into the game to replace Moran in the first inning. Coming into that at-bat Frazier was 1-for-30 this year. Odds were in the Cubs’ favor, you’d think, and Kimbrel got Frazier to hit a foul popup to Rizzo to end the game. The win put the Cubs back over .500 (17-16) for the first time since April 23, when they were 10-9.

Regarding Beth Mowins’ Cubs regular-season broadcast debut on Marquee Sports Network, since I was at the game I’ve only heard a couple of clips, so I’ll reserve judgment. Sara Sanchez will have a complete review of Mowins’ play-by-play here on Monday.

The Cubs will go for the series — and homestand — sweep Sunday afternoon, weather permitting (and right now it doesn’t look real promising). Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to start for the Cubs and Tyler Anderson will go for the Pirates. Game time is 1:20 p.m CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.