Gift Ngoepe steals show as Pittsburgh Pirates hang on to beat Chicago Cubs

By Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange

PITTSBURGH -- Gift Ngoepe didn't knock in the winning run in a one-run game, and he didn't hit a homer -- teammate Josh Bell did those things. Ngoepe didn't even start.

Yet the rookie infielder stole the show in his big-league debut Wednesday as the Pittsburgh Pirates avoided being swept by the Chicago Cubs with a 6-5 win at PNC Park.


He entered the game at second base to big cheers in the fourth inning after being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis earlier in the day. That made him the first African-born player to appear in a major league game.

Ngoepe singled up the middle in his first at-bat in the fourth, walked in the sixth and struck out in the eighth. He also was the pivot on a game-ending double play in the ninth.


"Just a lot of really cool stuff," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Ngoepe was able to put the game in perspective pretty quickly.

"I thought about where I've come from, making the journey from South Africa to pursue my dream of playing in the major leagues someday," he said. "I thought about the struggles of being in the minor leagues for 8 1/2 years and then to finally get up here and get a hit in my first at-bat. The whole thing was just awesome. That's the only word I can think of to describe it. It was awesome."

When it became clear that Ngoepe was going to enter the game on a double switch, shortstop and long-time friend Jordy Mercer sent up a rallying call in the dugout, repeatedly pointing out that Ngoepe was representing 1.62 billion people on the continent of Africa -- a figure he had gotten from Ngoepe.

"I was like, 'You realize you're one of that?'" Mercer said. "I was like, that's special. That's really, really special.

"You get guys called up all the time and it's special for different reasons, but it's just different just because he's from Africa. C'mon. He lives with giraffes and lions."


The moment was not lost on Ngoepe, 27.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy," he said. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest. It was emotional and I had to fight back the tears."

The Pirates (9-12) built a 5-3 lead through four innings. Bell added a solo homer in the sixth to make it 6-3, and Chicago's Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer in the eighth for the final scoring.

Pittsburgh had been 2-6, including losses in the first two games of the series, since an improbable sweep of the Cubs from April 14-16 at Wrigley Field.

Chicago (12-9) had won six of its previous seven games.

Pittsburgh's Tyler Glasnow made his fourth start but got his pitch count up quickly and was not around long enough to get a decision. He gave up three runs on six hits with four strikeouts and four walks over 3 1/3 innings.

Wade LeBlanc (1-0) pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win. Tony Watson pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for his seventh save.


The Cub's Jon Lester (0-1) got his first decision in his fifth start. He allowed six runs, five of them earned, on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings, with five strikeouts and two walks.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "I just made the adjustment too late."

Each starter threw 29 pitches in the first, but only Glasnow got out of it unscathed.

Glasgow got out of situations with two-on and one-out, and bases loaded with two outs, ending the inning by striking out Wilson Contreras.

Lester wasn't as lucky. Josh Harrison hit his fifth career leadoff homer, to left, and Cervelli's two-out double drove in Gregory Polanco for a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead.

"You've got to put him up there and see what was going to happen," Hurdle said of batting Harrison leadoff. "We wanted to push the envelope with him at the top, push the envelope on the bases, try and do something to maybe break up some rhythm with Lester on the mound."

The Cubs cut that in half, 2-1, in the second when Glasnow hit Rizzo with the bases loaded and two outs.


The Pirates picked up three more in the second to make it 5-1, on Phil Gosselin's RBI double, an error by catcher Contreras when he dropped the ball as Gosselin came home an out later, and Andrew McCutchen's RBI double.

Chicago scored twice in the fourth, on Kris Bryant's RBI double and Rizzo's RBI single. In the process, the Cubs chased Glasnow and cut the lead to 5-3.

Chicago had 12 hits and stranded 13 runners.

"It was a weird night," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

"We had more than a ton of opportunities. You look at a game like that, don't blame anybody. We left too many guys on base. That's it."

NOTES: The Pirates optioned RHP Dovydas Neverauskas to Triple-A Indianapolis. He became the first native of Lithuania to play in a major league game Monday against the Cubs. ... Pirates 3B David Freese sat out for the second straight game because of a sore hamstring, although he would have been available to pinch-hit, according to manager Clint Hurdle. ... Both teams have a day off Thursday. Pittsburgh then has games on 17 straight days, the Cubs on 13 straight days.


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