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Cubs escape Pittsburgh with much-needed win

@MLBastian
August 17, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park was busy Saturday evening, with equipment bags and cases being packed up and moved out. It had the feel of a conclusion to a road trip, but the Cubs have one more game to go against the Pirates. "They're on the road,

PITTSBURGH -- The visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park was busy Saturday evening, with equipment bags and cases being packed up and moved out. It had the feel of a conclusion to a road trip, but the Cubs have one more game to go against the Pirates.

"They're on the road, too," Kris Bryant said with a smirk.

The Cubs escaped Pittsburgh with a 2-0 victory on Saturday -- one that featured a gritty effort from Jon Lester, a timely home run from Bryant and some key contributions out of the bullpen -- and now it is on to Williamsport, Pa., for Sunday's Little League Classic presented by GEICO. It will provide a welcomed end to this 11-day, 10-game trip for the North Siders.

Box score

And, just as the Cubs escaped multiple jams Saturday, the players are hoping Sunday's unique experience will be an escape from the stresses of the road. The players will don "Cubbies" jerseys and talk to the youthful players in town for the Little League World Series. Then, Chicago will face the Pirates at Bowman Field, which seats under 3,000 fans.

"I do believe our guys will grab some energy from meeting the kids," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "All of that will be entertaining to all of us."

On the baseball side of the equation, it will also give the Cubs an opportunity to pick up a series win on the road.

Chicago has not won a road set since May 17-19 at Washington, going 0-10-2 in the dozen series away from Wrigley Field over the past three-plus months. The Cubs, who are in the thick of the National League Central and Wild Card races, have not won a road series against a division opponent all year. They are now 24-39 on the road this season.

That trend led to the Cubs bringing their home white jerseys on this trip. They have been hanging in the players’ lockers through Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Saturday’s victory was not without flaws, but it was a needed trip to the win column nonetheless in ending a four-game losing streak.

"A challenging day all the way around," Lester said. "But we got it done."

Lester logged 103 pitches over six-plus innings, sidestepping harm at multiple junctures. Pittsburgh loaded the bases with one out in the first and came away empty handed. Two walks from Lester and an error by Bryant led to a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the fifth. Again, Lester navigated his way out of the situation.

In the seventh, Lester allowed a leadoff double to Adam Frazier and then issued his fifth walk of the game in a battle with pinch-hitter Pablo Reyes. The veteran pitcher yelled and punched the air in frustration as he exited the ballgame. Tyler Chatwood entered, escaped and provided a two-inning bridge for Rowan Wick to notch his first career save.

"Jonny, after some tough moments, showed what he's made out of," Maddon said. "For lack of a better way to put it, he's just tough."

Bryant made two fielding errors in the game and had one strikeout within the Cubs' 1-for-18 showing against lefty Steven Brault through the first six innings. When the third baseman was in the batter's box to open the seventh, he heard a heckler shouting comments about the defensive gaffes.

Bryant then sent the first pitch from Brault over the wall in left for a go-ahead home run.

"I don't really know what he said," Bryant said. "But, he was making fun of me because I made two errors. And then I hit a home run. That was cool."

That moment felt good for Bryant, but he said Lester's performance meant more to him in this win.

"When you make an error and then your pitcher gets you out of it, that feels even better," Bryant said. "He did that for me twice, and the whole game."

And now the Cubs have a chance to end this road trip on a positive note, and in the kind of environment that might help the players shake off the mental weight of the recent road troubles.

"Hopefully tomorrow will be a little bit of fun," Lester said, "and maybe a little less emotional and we can get the series heading home. Now both teams are on the road, so neutral site. Maybe that'll help."

Bryant said the upcoming Little League event might also give the team a chance to take a step back, let out a deep breath and reset their focus for the stretch run.

"I've been looking forward to this since they announced it," Bryant said. "I think it'll kind of put things in perspective, too. We're going to watch the Little League World Series and hang around the kids and see how happy they are. They're just playing a game.

"And I think if we can take something like that from this experience, then it doesn't matter if we win or lose. It's a win situation for both teams."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.