Home Pittsburgh Sports College Football Ngoepe makes history as Bucs defeat Cubs, 6-5

Ngoepe makes history as Bucs defeat Cubs, 6-5

Gift Ngoepe, the first African-born Major League baseball player, suited up for the Pirates Wednesday night and earned a hit in his first big league at-bat, as the Pirates defeated the Chicago Cubs.

You could have used a calendar to time the first half of this game.

In a game that lasted three hours and 22 minutes—and over an hour and a half covered in just the first four innings—it was the Pirates that survived the war of attrition, knocking off Chicago (12-9) to salvage a game in the series finale at PNC Park Wednesday night.

Pittsburgh (9-12) survived a bend-don’t-break performance from starter Tyler Glasnow, who finished his day pitching 3.1 innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits and four walks. 

“It’s pitch efficiency.  I have to get back to what I was doing before,” said Glasnow, who tossed 89 pitches on the night.  “I think I’ve kind of been a little out of whack this year.  I’m confident that I know I’m going to get back to normal, and this is fine.”

Manager Clint Hurdle had another take on the starter.

“It’s command.  First pitch strikes are under 50% and he’s allowing three ball counts,” skip said.

While Glasnow still fought to find himself, the offense was comfortable enough against Cubs’ starter Jon Lester, as they corralled five of the six runs scored off the lefty, forcing Lester’s first loss of the season.

Josh Harrison and Josh Bell led the Pirates, each going 2 for 3, both with solo home runs, with Harrison’s coming on the third pitch of the game from Lester, marking the second leadoff home run for the Pirates this season (Jordy Mercer).

“I prefer to be at the top, that’s where I always wanted to be, and where I feel most comfortable,” Harrison said about leading off.  “I don’t try to do anything more than what I do.  It’s just a matter of some spots are just more comfortable; and you can’t really explain it, but for those of us that go through it, it’s different one day when you know you might be hitting first or second, because sometimes you can switch it up and be a little ignitor.”

Bell not only brought his bat with his towering shot on a full count in the 6th, but also a touch of leather, when the first baseman made a cerebral, heads up play, fielding a grounder on the line, but throwing home for the force out on a sliding Lester instead of tagging first base with one out in the 5th, leaving the Cubs’ deficit at two runs after Kris Bryant grounded out to close the frame.

“That may have very well swung the game in our favor,” said Hurdle of the play.  “That’s not a play that many first basemen are ever going to make, truth be told.  Give him some credit for having the mindset that he could make that play.”

Felipe Rivero, who made his Major League best 14th relief appearance Wednesday night finished a perfect 7th, including an off-the-mound sliding snag-and-toss to first base, highlighting another great round of bullpen pitching for Pittsburgh, which saw four of five relief pitchers toss 4.3 innings of scoreless baseball, including Tony Watson’s NL-best 7th save.

Andrew McCutchen (1 for 4), Francisco Cervelli (1 for 3) and Phil Gosselin (1 for 2) all finished with one RBI a-piece.

African baseball history

Representing an entire continent, the hopes and dreams of the first African-born baseball player to take the field in a Major League stadium became a reality for the Pirates’ Gift Ngoepe, who was called up for Wednesday night’s game.

Ngoepe, who pinch hit in the 4th inning, clubbed a sharp single up the middle to notch his first Major League hit in his first at-bat.  The 2nd baseman remained in the game and finished his day 1 for 2 with a walk.

“I was holding it back.  You are in the big leagues, you have to be a big guy,” said the once Pietersburg, South African resident Ngoepe on containing the tears and emotions of Wednesday night.  “Cervelli came up too me and held my chest and my heart just started beating a little bit harder, Jordy felt it too.  They said you live through this kind of moment, and that eased me knowing that they have been through that situation before.”

“Jordy (Mercer) just kept telling everybody he’s representing 1.62 billion people!  He’s just one of that!  Three or four times the number came up, that’s why I remember,” said Hurdle of the excitement surrounding Ngoepe’s big day.  Everybody was pulling for him, everybody was excited when Prince went down to tell him get ready for a double switch.  The rest of it, you can’t make up.  Involved in plays, get a base hit, get a walk, three at-bats, involved in the double play to end the game.  Just a lot of really cool stuff.”

 “I thought about where I’ve come from, what I’ve been through, all of the struggles of the Minor Leagues and almost nine years of being in the Minor Leagues, and finally being here in this very moment, and I just got a base hit,” Ngoepe said.  “The people who have been there for me this whole time.  The atmosphere just felt, awesome.”

“Stepping against Lester for the first time, I mean knowing that he’s been in the big leagues for a very long time, and he’s a good pitcher.  Getting a hit off of him, that was a pretty good feeling.”

Mercer, maybe the most excited Pirate to see Ngoepe make his debut had a colorful analysis of the historical night.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” said Mercer.  “Me and him were in the organization for a long time, and I’ve seen him every spring training, so I know him like a brother of mine.  He continued to play, he went through the system, and worked his way up and it’s just awesome to see a kid come up.  You all know how nice of a kid he is too, so that made it all even better.”

Mercer continued on the idea of Ngoebe being the first in a population of 1.62 billion on the continent of Africa to play Major League baseball.

“I couldn’t get over it.  Not only is he like the 18,000th person to put on a big league uniform in ever, which is cool too, but he’s one of 1.62 billion, and that’s incredible.  You get guys that get called up all the time, and it’s special, but this is different just because he’s from Africa.  I mean come on.  He lives with giraffes and lions!”

After the moneyline

Chicago came in as heavy -150 favorites, making the Pirates the largest home dog of the night (+130).  The win marks the first time the Pirates have won has home dogs this season.

The O/U, which was set at eight runs went well over tonight with 11 runs totaled.   The over has now hit in three of the last five Pirates games.

Next up

The Pirates will travel to Miami to start a weekend series with the Marlins.  Game one is Friday, and first pitch is set for 7:05.

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