The Pirates put together some early offense and survived another shaky start from Tyler Glasnow to take the final game of the three-game set against the Cubs. The bullpen bailed out Glasnow with over four innings of scoreless relief, but a two-run homer by Anthony Rizzo in the eighth made for a white knuckle final five outs.
With the tying run on first and one out in the ninth, Jordy Mercer muffed a ground ball and the Cubs had an emerging threat. But Watson induced a hard groundball that Mercer easily handled to start a game-ending double play.
It was more of the same from Tyler Glasnow. He was inefficient and worked in traffic for most of his short stint. A night after Gerrit Cole threw only 78 pitches over seven innings, Glasnow was at 74 pitches through three innings. In both the first and the second he had to work out of bases loaded situations and was fortunate to allow only one run. The Pirates rookie right-hander lasted only 3.1 innings, allowing six hits and three runs. He struck out and walked four. Glasnow now owns the second highest WHIP (2.45) amongst pitchers with 10-plus innings pitched.
One wonders how many more starts the Pirates are willing to give him to work things out. With a stretch of 17 games in 17 games coming up, they are positively going to need him to go deeper into games.
"I need to get back to what I was doing before," Glasnow said. "I've been a little out of whack this year. I'm confident, I know I'm going to get back to normal. So, I'll be fine."
On a positive note, Glasnow did look a quicker to the plate with men on base, which contributed to retiring Jason Heyward on a stolen base attempt in the third. The caught stealing ended a string of 15 straight successful stolen bases against Glasnow dating back to last season.
"That's part of his game he's worked on," Hurdle said. "He's working on all of it. That played out well. So, he's incorporated a little bit more of a slide step, a quick step, whatever you want to call it."
Gift's first historic hit
Gift Ngoepe may not be up with the Pirates for long, but for one night he lived a big league dream. Entering the game in the fourth as part of a double switch, Ngoebe took his first major league at bat in the bottom of the inning and promptly knocked a ground ball single through the middle of the infield. As he stood on first, Ngoepe tried hard to look unaffected, but he couldn't contain a smile. First base coach, Kimera Bartee, patted him on the head and then gave the first African-born player to ever play in a major league baseball game a one-armed hug. His face beaming with emotion, Ngoepe seemed to allow the waves of emotion to flow through him for a few seconds. Then Bartee pointed to third, and both of them tried to concentrate on the baserunning signs.
"You had to be there to feel it," Hurdle said of the moment. "Everybody was pulling for him. Everybody was excited. ... The rest of it you can't make up. Just a lot of cool stuff. This game brings so many cool stuff to us. A beautiful part of the game that we are so appreciative of."
In the sixth, Ngoepe showed nice plate discipline and earned a walk after working the count full. He ended his night 1-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout.
After Ngoepe's single, Jordy Mercer ran up and down the dugout repeatedly yelling "one of 1.62 billion," referring to the population of Africa (actual estimated population is 1.216 billion). Other players yelled out to him, "For the Motherland." The whole scene was "awesome," Ngoebe said.
"You see guys called up all the time, but this is special." Mercer said. "I mean, it's Africa, come on. There's giraffes and lions."
When he first entered the game as a defensive replacement in the fourth, Francisco Cervelli put his hand on Ngeope's chest to feel how hard his heart was beating. The Pirates catcher then turned to Harrison and said, "Hey, feel his heart beat." Harrison did. "Yeah, it was pumping," the Pirates third baseman said. When they were done poking his chest, Ngoepe turned to Harrison and asked, "Is this my story?" Harrison replied, "No, your story is just starting." "He liked that," Harrison said afterwards.
In the clubhouse, Ngoepe stood at his locker wearing a green polo shirt with the interlocking letters S and A, which he got playing for the South African national team in 2009. Surrounded by a dozen or more reporters, he tried to describe his indescribable emotions.
"I was holding [tears] back," Ngoepe said of taking the field for the first time. "You're in the big leagues, you got to be a big guy."
When he rounded first after his single, Ngoepe's thoughts fired through where he came from, what he's been through, including all the struggles the come with an almost nine year minor league career. Then he thought about all the people that have been there "from day one," like Bartee, all his teammates, McCutchen, Harrison and Tom Prince.
Cubs first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, quickly congratulated Ngoepe: "He just said congratulations on your first hit and everything you've been through, so far."
As Bartee hugged him, the Pirates first base coach told him, "You're going to make me cry." "You're going to make me cry," Ngoepe replied."
It was quite the moment at PNC Park and, for Ngoepe, it lived up to ever dream he ever dared to dream.
"I've dreamed of this over and over and it certainly lived up to every dream I had as a kid," he said.
Harrison adds some spark
Josh Harrison batted lead off and provided the Pirates with the offensive jolt they've been looking for. In the first, he hit a lead off home run. In the second, with Phil Gosselin on third, Harrison walked and then got himself caught up between first and second on a double steal attempt. Gosselin broke for home and scored after Cubs catcher, Willson Contreras, dropped the throw. Harrison came around to score two batters later on a double by Andrew McCutchen.
Harrison said afterwards that it wasn't an intentional double steal and that he kind of "got caught out there." It was the Pirates game plan to test Jon Lester with big leads, but he didn't necessarily expect, nor want, the left-hander to step off the mound.
Hurdle said he put Harrison in the lead off spot because he was looking for a little action from the top of the order to kickstart the offense. That role suits the Pirates second base/third basemen just fine.
"I prefer to be at the top [of the lineup]," the Harrison said. "It's where I feel most comfortable. It's different on days when you know you might be batting first or second. You switch it up and try to be a little ignitor."
For his career, Harrison carries a .310 batting average when batting first, compared to .265 in all other batting order positions.
Adding to the Pirates offensive effort were Francisco Cervelli, who hit an RBI double in the first, and McCutchen and Gosselin who both hit RBI doubles in the second. Josh Bell hit a solo home run in the sixth.
The Pirates are now 9-12 and have the day off tomorrow before heading out to Miami for a three game series agains the Marlins.