CHICAGO -- Mike Montgomery is making it clear that he likes being a starter.
The left-hander scattered seven hits over six innings in his third start and Ian Happ made three stellar catches in left field, including a grab for the last out of the game, to lead the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the Pirates on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Subbing for injured Yu Darvish, Montgomery has now given up two earned runs over 17 2/3 innings in his three starts for a 1.02 ERA.
"I'm definitely ready for the challenge, whatever the role is," Montgomery said. "It's something I prepared in my mind, always, to be a starter. It's fun going out there and getting a chance to start."
"This doesn't surprise me," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Montgomery's success so far. "The big thing for me is he knows where his fastball is going."
Benjamin Zobrist drove in two runs, hitting an RBI single in the first and a run-scoring fielder's choice in the second off Pirates starter Chad Kuhl. Happ secured the win with his third diving catch of the game, snagging Josh Harrison's fly ball in left field.
"He saved the game," Maddon said of Happ. "Literally, he saved the game with a couple catches."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle agreed with Maddon.
"You hit balls at this level, man, you watch guys make plays, there's a lot of talent all over the place," Hurdle said. "He probably should have got the save along with [Pedro] Strop today, playing left field."
"You just want to make the play," Happ said. "To be able to make the play for them like that and the atmosphere here, and making the last out on a diving play like that is pretty cool."
With the win, the Cubs are a season-high 12 games over .500 and have won 10 of their past 12 games, outscoring their opponents 60-32 in that span. The Pirates have lost 15 of their past 20 games.
"We've been playing great," Chicago's Kristopher Bryant said. "It's something we've all known we can play like. We expected to go on a run here like this."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leadoff man: Batting first for the first time in his career, Bryant went 3-for-4 with three singles. Maddon's message to Bryant was to focus on doing whatever is necessary to help the team win.
Bryant was the eighth leadoff batter for the Cubs this season. However, his homerless streak continues, and he has now reached 20 consecutive games, matching his longest drought since starting his career in 2015.
"I was pretty nervous for the first at-bat," Bryant said. "Thankfully, it worked out. I [led off] in college, so it wasn't completely new, but it's a completely different level and much better pitching."
Rizzo jokingly calls himself the greatest leadoff hitter on the Cubs. Is he?
"Anthony has that title for a little longer," Bryant said, laughing. More >
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Happ did his part to help Montgomery. He made a diving one-handed catch to rob Corey Dickerson of a potential base hit and end the Pirates' third, stranding two runners. In the sixth, Happ made a nice running catch of Colin Moran's fly ball to end the inning, giving Montgomery his first 1-2-3 inning. Happ put the finishing touch on his day when he grabbed Harrison's fly ball to end the game.
"If that ball gets down, we've got another chance to extend the inning," Harrison said. "It's baseball, man. He made a nice play."
"I don't know if I could've made those catches," Bryant said. "I told [Happ] after the game, 'That's three of the best catches I've seen all year.' He really saved the game."
In college, Happ's bat got more attention than his glove, and he's worked hard on his defense to be able to sub at all three outfield positions, as well as at second base.
"I was kind of fueled by being told I couldn't play a bunch of defensive spots and being labeled as a hitter only and a minus defender," Happ said. "Being able to make the plays and help the guys is all that matters.
"I take pride in the defense, because it helps the team," Happ said. More >
HE SAID IT
"He's a tough kid. He might be quiet, but he's a tough kid. It's probably those good Pennsylvania roots. He always battles back." -- Maddon on Happ; both the manager and the player hail from the Keystone State
Jonathan Lester gets the start on Saturday in the second game of the Cubs' three-game series vs. the Pirates. Lester threw seven scoreless innings in his last start against the Mets. He's on a good roll, compiling a 1.94 ERA in his past nine starts. The lefty has given up one earned run or fewer in seven of his 12 starts this year. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.