Cubs steal another 1-run victory over Pirates

If it feels like the Cubs have never emphasized stealing bases, that would be an accurate assessment.

Typically built to hit the ball onto Waveland Avenue, there's been exactly one season in the last 50 years when the Cubs finished in the top five in the majors in stolen bases. That was 1985, when Ryne Sandberg swiped a career-high 54 and 40-year-old Davey Lopes somehow collected 47.

At the moment, the Cubs are second in MLB with 26 stolen bases and that skill helped stretch their win streak to five games Saturday. In the seventh inning of a tie game, Jason Heyward walked, stole second and scored on a two-out, pinch-hit single by Matt Duffy to give the Cubs a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field.

So what gives? Two years ago, the Cubs were 29th in MLB in stolen bases.

"I think National League baseball is back," starting pitcher Trevor Williams said. "Last year with the universal DH, we really didn't see the chess game of the National League baseball game. This year we've seen it more and it's fun."

The Cubs, now above .500 at 17-16, still rank near the top of the league in home runs, but they've definitely done a better job of manufacturing runs. Over the past two days, with the wind blowing in, they've collected 14 singles, no extra base hits and won two 1-run decisions.

"I think baserunning won us the game tonight, with timely hitting, but we try to put emphasis on every aspect of the game," manager David Ross said. "That's what good teams do."

The Cubs got their second run when Willson Contreras scored from third on a shallow sacrifice fly to center field by Eric Sogard. The first run came on a Contreras RBI hit by pitch in the first inning.

But Heyward's stolen base set the stage for the game-winner. He led off the seventh inning with a walk and didn't try to run with left-hander Sam Howard staring him down. With two outs, Ross sent Duffy out to pinch-hit, the Pirates countered with right-hander Clay Holmes and Heyward took off for second.

Eleven different Cubs have stolen bases so far this season, led by Javy Baez with 6. Heyward credited third base coach Willie Harris for pushing them to be aggressive on the basepaths. Harris will never be mistaken for Tim Raines, but he did swipe 107 bases in his career.

"We know we're athletic enough," Heyward said. "We know we have enough experience baseball-wise to run the bases. I think relying on slug less, as we're seeing our team do - we know these months are going to be cold, but if we can take advantage of something as small as taking another base, I think we're going to see that pay dividends."

Duffy continues to be one of the Cubs' most reliable hitters by dropping a single into short right field. On Wednesday, Duffy came up with an RBI single to tie the game in extra innings and this time he delivered as a pinch-hitter.

"I kind of try to put it in perspective of like when I start games, sometimes I start the game with a hit in my first at-bat," Duffy said of getting pinch-hits. "Not always, but that's kind of how I simplify it. This is just my first at-bat and I can go 1-for-1. Might not, but if I don't then try it again tomorrow. I think if you put too much pressure on yourself, it just makes it harder."

Williams labored to finish 4 innings with 83 pitches. Rookie Keegan Thompson stepped in to throw 3 scoreless innings and pick up his first major league win. Craig Kimbrel recorded his sixth save after getting an extra day of rest on Friday.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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