McCutchen's blast tips scales in Bucs' favor

McCutchen's blast tips scales in Bucs' favor

CHICAGO -- Saturday was a day at Wrigley Field when the hitters were giddy and the pitchers just held their breath every time a ball went in the air.

The Pirates found the jet stream more than the Cubs, hitting a season-high four homers, including a three-run go-ahead blast by Andrew McCutchen with two outs in the seventh inning to post an 8-7 victory on Saturday. The Cubs countered with Kris Bryant's 451-foot homer off the left-field video scoreboard in the first. He added a solo shot in the ninth.

Bryant's two-homer game

"They got more balls in the air than we did, and that's the tale of the game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Pittsburgh trailed, 6-3, in the seventh before the five-run rally, capped by McCutchen's homer off Pedro Strop. As he crossed home plate, McCutchen tipped his cap, something he always does to recognize his wife, Maria, but it was fitting to do so on Jackie Robinson Day. McCutchen picked up the gesture from watching the movie "42," about Robinson.

"He's a dangerous hitter. He knows himself very well," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's had some success here. He's a motivated man. I know Jackie Robinson Day plays for everybody. It plays for him."

The Cubs opened a 4-0 lead in the first when they hit for the cycle, including Bryant's blast. The reigning National League Most Valuable Player, Bryant crushed a ball off the video board when he launched a 2-0 pitch from Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow to left. Kyle Schwarber had doubled to set up Bryant, and Addison Russell added an RBI triple and scored on Jason Heyward's single that inning.

Russell's RBI triple

"You have to play the elements here," Bryant said. "When it's cold and windy and blowing in, you have to scratch across a run. Today, the first inning was great but you never know if that's enough."

The video board was installed at Wrigley prior to the 2015 season, and now has been hit six times, including four whacks by Bryant. He didn't come close to it with one out in the ninth when Bryant launched the first pitch off Tony Watson into the basket rimming the left-field bleachers. It was Bryant's eighth career multi-homer game.

The wind was blowing out of the southwest at 24 mph. Francisco Cervelli, who hit one home run all of last season, notched his second of the year in the second inning as the ball dropped into the center-field bleachers.

Cervelli's solo home run

"Anything's possible, especially when you've got winds blowing out the way they were blowing out," McCutchen said. "You can hit a fly ball and it goes out. We did that today."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Start me up: The Cubs' bullpen was unable to support starter Jake Arrieta, who was in line for the win. According to Statcast™, both Arrieta's sinker and four-seam fastball are down more than 2 mph from last year's average. The Cubs are OK with that, because he's shown better command. That wasn't the case with Strop, who walked a batter before serving up McCutchen's homer.

"I'm OK with the slider being hit with a home run as opposed to the fastball," Maddon said of Strop. "That's his pitch at that moment. He just got it in a bad spot. Give McCutchen credit. I liked the choice of pitch, the execution wasn't there."

Arrieta saw the flags blowing out, and knew it would be a tough day.

"You just pray they don't get the ball in the air too many times," Arrieta said. "I don't think you see a day where the wind blows harder than it did today."

Gone with the wind: McCutchen had the Pirates' biggest hit of the day, blasting a go-ahead, three-run shot to left field in the seventh inning. But the rally started with a big fly from Josh Harrison, his first of the season. Harrison swatted a 2-2 slider from Brian Duensing and let the wind carry it a Statcast-projected 403 feet to center field. The ball came off Harrison's bat at 96.7 mph, according to Statcast™, with a launch angle of 27 degrees. The probability of that ball landing for a hit, let alone a home run, was 42 percent. But it sailed over the center-field wall, pulling the Pirates within two.

"You know the flags being like that helps you in certain situations, but you still don't want to try, because that's when you swing and miss. Just worry about making hard contact," Harrison said. "Get a pitch and put a swing on it. Sure, we would have liked to hit one on the barrel and hit it on the street, but at the end of the day, it's about staying short and staying within yourself."

QUOTABLE
"We're not worried about how we started last year compared to this year. Last year was kind of a fairy-tale year for us, and it's not always going to be like that. It's important to realize that early on so we're not hitting the panic button like we did at the All-Star break last year." -- Bryant, when asked to compare last year's 17-5 start in April to this season

"This is a sweet win. I'll keep this one in my pocket for a while. Just a nice win in this ballpark. … We've had some challenges early. As we talk about here, you act as if you haven't had challenges. You need to act as if. They went out there today, 6-2, and they still acted as if we've got this game. We're going to figure this out." -- Hurdle

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• The blustery wind kept the outfielders on their toes: Heyward, playing center, had to run 112 feet to catch John Jaso's fly ball in the Pirates' seventh.

• Pirates center fielder Starling Marte has homered and stolen a base in 12 games since the beginning of the 2013 season, the third-highest total in the Majors during that span behind only Mike Trout (14) and Paul Goldschmidt (13).

Marte's solo homer

UNDER REVIEW
In the Cubs' half of the third inning, Russell tried to score from third on Willson Contreras' grounder to third baseman David Freese. The Cubs challenged the call, saying Cervelli, the Pirates' catcher, violated the home-plate collision rule by sticking his leg out, and also challenged that Cervelli didn't tag Russell. After a review, both calls were upheld.

Freese's heads-up defensive play

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Jon Lester will close the Cubs' series against the Pirates on Sunday. Lester is looking for his first win of the season. He's given up two earned runs over 11 innings in his two previous outings. Last year, the lefty was 10-2 with a 1.74 ERA at home. First pitch is set for 1:20 p.m. CT.

Pirates: Jameson Taillon will get the ball against the Cubs. The 25-year-old right-hander has pitched well in his first two starts, allowing two runs over 13 innings against the Red Sox and Reds, but has gone unrewarded. Taillon is still looking for his first win of the season, in a game slated to start at 2:20 p.m. ET.

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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.