Anthony Rizzo, John Lackey send Chicago Cubs past Pittsburgh Pirates

By Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange   |   June 18, 2017 at 7:30 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- Anthony Rizzo batted leadoff for the fifth time in a row -- and fifth time in his career -- when the Chicago Cubs played in a weekend series finale on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He's getting the hang of it, apparently.

"The game can't start until I get in the batter's box," Rizzo said with a smile after Chicago's 7-1 win.

No, and lately it doesn't get started until he leads off the game with a hit. On Sunday, it was a double to left on Jameson Taillon's first pitch. He came around to score, part of a 3-for-5 day that included his 16th homer, two RBIs and three runs scored.

Rizzo is 5-for-5 leading off games and has tied a career high with a 12-game hitting streak.

"If we win ballgames, I'll be the leadoff hitter for the rest of my career," Rizzo said, still being jovial. "But no, the objective is the pitchers are going to throw strike one. They want to get into a groove. You've got to be ready to hit."

Willson Contreras was 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs, and rookie Ian Happ added his eighth homer for the Cubs (34-34), who took two of three against the Pirates -- their first road series win in more than six weeks, since winning two of three at PNC Park on April 24-26.

It all started with Rizzo.

"Gosh, the way he started the game again, got the momentum rolling," Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. "We had good at-bats up and down the lineup."

Cubs starter John Lackey (5-7) allowed one run, a solo homer by Jordy Mercer, in six innings of two-hit ball, striking out four and walking three for his first win since May 16. In the interim, he had been 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts.

"I'm just going to try to enjoy the rest of the season, try to calm down a little bit and just enjoy myself a little bit more," Lackey said. "Didn't give in to some guys and had a couple walks, but felt pretty good.

"It's very weird -- you can pitch very similar and get lots of different results sometimes."

Relievers Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Brian Duensing each pitched a scoreless inning for the Cubs to polish off a combined three-hitter.

Pittsburgh (31-38) had won five of its previous seven games and missed a chance to move within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Cubs in the National League Central.

Taillon (3-2) took a step back as he made his second start since returning from surgery for testicular cancer. He gave up four runs and eight hits through five innings, with four strikeouts and one walk.

Taillon beat Colorado in his first game off the DL with five innings of scoreless work with five hits, five strikeouts.

"I think they're looking for fastballs early, and then some breaking balls didn't work his way at all," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "The curveball was inconsistent and the misfires he did have were barreled. They were up in the zone, so his overall command was probably a culprit."

But not anything major, Taillon said.

"I felt good. Felt sharp. A couple pitches I would've like to have back, but I felt like it was coming out of my hand clean," he said. "My mechanics felt good. A couple execution problems, but I felt fine."

Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the first. Rizzo, after his double to the left field corner, moved to third on Happ's bunt and scored on Contreras' double.

Lackey got out of a two-on, none-out jam in the second -- shortstop Javier Baez bobbled what could have been a double-play grounder -- with three fly balls.

The Cubs scored two in the third before there was an out, on Contreras' two-run double, for a 3-0 lead, and added another in the fourth on John Jay's RBI single to make it 4-0.

Mercer lined a leadoff homer just inside the foul pole in left to bring the Pirates within 4-1 in the fifth. It was the 20th homer allowed by Lackey this season.

"He hung that ball -- a slider or a curveball or whatever it was," Mercer said. "Those are good to backspin. Those balls can go a long ways at times. I was able to just get underneath it. I hit it on a line, but I didn't think it was going to go out."

Rizzo's two-run shot to left in the seventh provided 6-1 advantage.

Happ, a rookie playing in his hometown for the first time this weekend, launched a two-out homer, his eighth, into the Chicago bullpen in center to make it 7-1 in the ninth.

"Awesome weekend. Just special, family being here, friends being here," said Happ, adding that he procured the home run ball hit in the park he formerly knew only as a spectator growing up.

NOTES: Chicago LF Jason Heyward left the game in the fourth inning because of a left hand abrasion. He got that in the second inning sliding to attempt to catch a foul ball. ... Pittsburgh reinstated C Chris Stewart from the 10-day DL and optioned C Jacob Stallings to Triple-A Indianapolis. ... Cubs SS Addison Russell, who twisted an ankle rounding second Saturday night, was available to play but given the day off. ... The Seattle Mariners claimed minor league RHP Pat Light from the Pirates.

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