PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Pirates rookie Josh Bell came up big again Sunday, but it wasn’t enough this time.
Bell’s baserunning helped Pittsburgh tie the score in the seventh, before Kris Bryant’s RBI double in the eighth lifted the Chicago Cubs to a 6-5 victory over the Pirates on Sunday.
The Pirates tied the score at 5-5 after the Cubs failed to turn a double play off a dribbler from Starling Marte in the seventh. With Bell, who led off the inning with a walk, at second base and John Jaso at first, Marte grounded to shortstop Addison Russell as Bell ran back to second.
Russell didn’t tag Bell and instead handed off to second baseman Ben Zobrist, whose relay throw to first failed to beat Marte. First baseman Anthony Rizzo threw back across the diamond to third, where Bell avoided a tag from Javier Baez.
“Today, (Bell) made a very good baserunning play to throw it in reverse and to stay out of the tag,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Then he was able to restart it and get to third base, that was very good baseball awareness and a very good play there.”
With runners on the corners and one out, Andrew McCutchen drove in Bell with a fly to deep right field. Reliever Pedro Strop ended the inning by getting David Freese on a fly ball.
Bell, called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday, went 2-for-2 and reached base in each of his three pinch-hit at-bats during the weekend series. He singled off Cubs ace Jake Arrieta in his first career at-bat Friday and hit his first grand slam in the fifth inning Saturday.
“I’m not sure he could have a better three at-bats, just based on what was out there for those at-bats,” Hurdle said. “Today, a lead-off at-bat against a guy that’s an experienced guy, to stretch that out, it was good to see. He checked all the boxes we had for him when we called him up. It was to help as a bat off the bench and help us win some games.”
Pinch-hitter Matt Szczur doubled to left field with one out in the eighth against Pirates reliever Tony Watson (1-3). Bryant, who had three hits and reached base four times, followed with his tiebreaking hit to put the Cubs back ahead.
“I just go out and try to make something happen,” Szczur said. “I was able to get a good pitch to drive and (Bryant) did the rest. . We’ve been grinding, we’re a bunch of grinders, so that was a good way to end the first half. We feel good about ourselves.”
Chicago avoided a series sweep ended its five game losing streak. Pittsburgh lost for just the second time in 11 games heading to the All-Star break.
With the win, the Cubs carry a seven-game lead over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals into the break.
“We need a break,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We need to get guys rested. The combination of the schedule and, more specifically, the last week with the way games were scheduled, it put us in a fatigue situation.”
After Strop (2-2) gave up McCutchen’s tying sacrifice fly in the seventh, Carl Edwards pitched a hitless eighth and Hector Rondon got the last three outs for his 14th save.
Strop had come in for starter John Lackey, who had another inconsistent outing. After allowing four runs in his first three innings, which included McCutchen’s 14th home run of the season and his second in two days, Lackey rebounded by shutting down the Pirates through the following three innings.
Lackey lost his control again when he walked Bell and allowed Jaso to follow with a single to start the seventh inning.
Pirates starter Jonathan Niese fared worse, giving up five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. He was pulled in favor of Arquimedes Caminero in the fourth inning after surrendering a two-run home run to Albert Almora Jr., retiring the following two batters and allowing back-to-back hits to Bryant and Rizzo in top of the fourth inning.
Niese has lost five of his past six starts and is 7-7 after beginning the season 6-2.
Cubs: OF Dexter Fowler will miss the All-Star Game on Tuesday and likely some time following the break. Fowler, who is recovering form a right hamstring strain, played in his first minor-league rehab game for Class A South Bend on Friday. He will travel to San Diego to take part in the All-Star festivities.
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco did not play for a second consecutive game due to left hamstring tightness. … 2B Josh Harrison also was absent. He exited Pittsburgh’s game Saturday in the third inning after fouling a fastball off his left foot. … RHP Gerrit Cole made his second rehab start with Class Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday. He is expected to rejoin Pittsburgh following the break.
Cubs: Chicago won’t play again until Friday, when it will come out of the All-Star break to face the surging Texas Rangers, who limped into the break.
Pirates: The Washington Nationals will welcome Pittsburgh to Nationals Park following the break for the first game of a three-game weekend set starting Friday.