PITTSBURGH (AP) — Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.
Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.
“To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special,” Ngoepe said. “There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing.”
“I told myself not to cry because I’m in the big leagues and I’m a big guy now,” Ngoepe said with a smile. “(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest.”
A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs — five earned — and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
“It’s probably the best I threw the ball all year,” Lester said. “That’s baseball.”
Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.
The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison’s career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates’ lead to 5-1.
After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.
Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.
Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.
Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.
HISTORY MAKER DEPARTS
RHP Dovydos Neverauskas was optioned to Indianapolis to make room for Ngoepe. In a loss Monday night, he became the first Lithuania-born player to pitch in a major league game.
CUBS SHUFFLE ROTATION
Taking advantage of a day off on Thursday, the Cubs moved RHP Kyle Hendricks up a day in their rotation and he will pitch Sunday night against the Red Sox in the finale of a three-game series at Boston. LHP Brett Anderson has been moved back a day and will start Monday night against Philadelphia.
A RARE WIN
The Cubs’ 1-0 victory over the Pirates on Tuesday night marked the first time since 2011 they won a game without an RBI. The lone run scored on a throwing error by rookie 2B Alen Hanson in the second inning.
Cubs: RHP Jake Arrieta (3-0, 3.65 ERA) starts Friday against Boston LHP Drew Pomeranz (1-1, 4.60). Arrieta took a no-hitter into the eighth inning the last time he faced the Red Sox on June 30, 2014, at Fenway Park and wound up allowing one hit in 7 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (1-0, 2.13) faces the Marlins for the first time in his career Friday and will be opposed by LHP Adam Conley (1-1, 3.00).