Friday, April 28, 2017

Watt's up: T.J. Watt adds more youth to Steelers' linebacker corps


By Chris Bradford
April 28, 2017

Photo: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH – In another season, in another time, the thought of the Steelers selecting another linebacker in the first round of the NFL Draft might have drawn criticism, if not yawns.
This is not that time.
For the fourth time in five years, the Steelers used their first-round pick to select a linebacker. This time, the selection of T.J. Watt from the University of Wisconsin at 30th overall will be greeted by the masses a little more warmly.
The Steelers, who fell just a win short of the Super Bowl last January, don’t have many glaring weaknesses on their roster as currently constructed, but they did have some areas of need, perhaps none more pressing than at outside linebacker.
Paired with Bud Dupree on the right side, it is hoped that Watt can be another building block on a young defense that made tremendous strides during the second half of the 2016 season. With Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave, Dupree and now Watt, all under the age of 25, the Steelers have the makings of a formidable defense for a few more seasons to come.
After a slow start, the Steelers ranked ninth in sacks with 38 last season. James Harrison, who turns 39 next week, led the Steelers with just five sacks. That was the smallest sack total to lead the Steelers since L.C. Greenwood in 1980.
In an increasingly pass heavy league, the best defenses have to get a consistent pass rush to contend with the Tom Brady’s of the NFL. The hope is that Watt, who had 11.5 sacks in 14 games for Wisconsin last season, can do just that.
“I truly am scratching the surface of what I can do,” Watt said. “I feel the sky is the limit for what I can do on the football field.”
Of course, Watt is best known as being the younger brother of Houston Texans All-Pro tight end J.J. Watt and L.A. Chargers fullback Derek Watt. Coincidentally, the Steelers will meet the Texans on Christmas night in Houston. On the field, the 6-foot-4, 252-pound Watt is most often compared to Green Bay’s Clay Mathews.
“I don’t think people really know who I am because I’ve been in such a big shadow,” Watt said. “That’s why I can’t wait to get to Pittsburgh and kind of become my own person.”
Unlike Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh’s failed first-round pick from four years ago, Watt will have the luxury of working with James Harrison as a rookie.
While Harrison was toiling briefly in Cincinnati in 2013, Jones, the heir apparent to Harrison in Pittsburgh, was thrust into a starting role and never seemed to get his career on track after suffering a wrist injury. Harrison was later coaxed out of retirement and Jones was never able to step out of the Steelers’ all-time sacks leader’s sizable shadow.
If this is Harrison’s last season, he can teach Watt the ropes.
“I’ve watched him for years growing up,” Watt said. “Especially now since I’ve been on the defensive side of the ball, I’ve watched him more and more. He’s a really good veteran presence and a really good football player. I cannot wait to get under the tutelage of him in that locker room.”

Steelers Take Watt With 1st Pick


Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writerhttp://www.espn.com/blog/pittsburgh-steelers/April 28, 2017
Jeremy Fowler breaks down the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2017 draft class.
Image result for t j watt

Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Round 1, No. 30 overall: T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin

My take: Can't knock the need. Pass rush help was on the menu for Pittsburgh, which now has its James Harrison replacement for 2018 or beyond. Watt will be highly motivated, is a unique athlete and has the Watt pedigree as a younger brother of Houston Texans star J.J. With plenty of other defensive options available at No. 30 -- including Washington cornerback Kevin King and Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster -- this pick doesn't come without questions. Some evaluators graded Watt as a second-rounder. He started one season at Wisconsin, and though he was productive with 11.5 sacks, he might need time to work his way into the Steelers' nuanced 3-4 defense. This seems like a quality pick, but it won't be a special one unless Watt makes it so.
Christmas clash: Assuming both are healthy, the Watt brothers will play on Christmas Day in Houston. Watt said that will be strange. "I played with him in the backyard a bunch, I've seen him play a bunch, but we've never been on the same field in full uniforms competitively before," Watt said. "I think it will be really cool and a weird day for me." Watt is the first Wisconsin defender to get drafted in the first round since J.J. went 11th overall in 2011.
High five: The Steelers have now used five straight first-round picks on defense (as well as eight of their past nine first- and second-round picks on D since 2013). Four of those five first-rounders were linebackers -- Jarvis Jones(2013), Ryan Shazier (2014), Bud Dupree and Watt. Like Dupree and Shazier before him, Watt brings athleticism to the locker room. The second-team All-American led all front-seven NFL combine participants in the 60-yard shuttle (11.20 seconds). Watt isn't as quick twitch as Dupree but understands how to use his 33-inch arms and 11-inch hands for leverage.
What's next: The Steelers believe the cornerback and tight end depth in this draft is strong. They could utilize both positions with three picks (Nos. 60, 90 and 101) on Day 2. Among the prospects to watch are Washington safety Budda Baker, Michigan tight end Jake Butt, N.C. State safety Josh Jones, Ohio State inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan and East Carolina receiver Zay Jones. The Steelers will likely add pass-catching help for Ben Roethlisberger at some point this week.

Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin once again center of attention


, USA TODAY Sports
https://www.usatoday.com/
April 28, 2017

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, skates next toPittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2. Photo: Nick Wass, AP / FR67404 AP

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, skates next to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2 (Nick Wass/AP)

WASHINGTON — Matt Cullen was in the playoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009 but he remembers watching the first time Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin met in the playoffs.

“I think everybody did,” Cullen said. “It’s what hockey is all about. It’s been exciting when those two play each other since the beginning.”

Crosby and Ovechkin have historically brought the best out of each other, and it was true again Thursday when Crosby scored twice in a 64-second span at the start of the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This was a meeting of the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the NHL and the NHL's No. 1 and No. 2 players of the past decade.

“For Crosby to come out and spark us like that was big, especially when you are playing on the road and starting out the series,” Cullen said.

As anyone who knows their history would expect, Ovechkin scored later in that period on a 35-foot shot to start a Washington comeback. He also had six hits in the game.

In their careers, Crosby and Ovechkin have played 55 games against each other in the regular season and playoffs. Ovechkin has 36 goals and 29 assists for 65 points in those meetings and Crosby has 30 goals and 47 assists for 77 points. Included in their meetings was a playoff game in 2009 when they each netted a hat trick.

“They’re both driven,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t think they’re driven by the other guy’s success or whatever. I think they’re just driven athletes. That’s why they’re in the top 100 in the history of this league. They’re the faces of both franchises. They’re special athletes, both those guys, and they look for those big moments and they capitalize on those big moments.”

After Ovechkin regained some momentum for the Capitals, they eventually tied the game at 8:05 of the third period on a goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Nick Bonino gave the Penguins the game-winner with 7:24 left in regulation.

Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury preserved the win with brilliant goaltending in the third period. He made 15 saves in the period, including a few memorable ones during a long, chaotic scramble in front of his net. The puck seemed to disappear a couple of times, but Fleury was able to track it and make critical saves.

"I don’t know if I’ve played with a quicker goalie,” Cullen said. “He is so good at finding pucks and reacting so quickly. He covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.”

But it was difficult not to be drawn to Ovechkin and Crosby in this game.

“We hadn’t played for a little bit, so we really wanted to establish the way we wanted to play and I thought it we did a pretty good job of that,” Crosby said.

Cullen said he could sense Crosby was primed for a productive game.

“He was a threat all night,” Cullen said. “He was dangerous. He was attacking."

It was the kind of game you would expect when Ovechkin and Crosby play each other.

Said Cullen: “They are always kind of linked, like Mario (Lemieux) and (Wayne) Gretzky.”

Hornqvist helps Penguins set tone against Capitals


By Kevin Gorman
April 28, 2017
Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Brooks Orpik #44 of the Washington Capitals collide in the second period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON
This was about setting the tone for their Eastern Conference semifinal, what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan calls putting their best game on the ice.
The plan for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals was simply to play hard and to compete, then react and respond.
The Penguins did just that in their 3-2 victory over the Capitals Thursday night at Verizon Center, thanks to the impact of Patric Hornqvist.
After sluggish first periods in the first-round series against Columbus, Sullivan shifted his starting lineup to get more aggressive.
Sullivan stayed with a move he made midway through Game 5 against the Blue Jackets, playing Hornqvist on the right wing of Sidney Crosby in place of Conor Sheary, and it paid off with two goals in the first 1 minute, 4 seconds of the second period.
“You know how he plays and the energy he brings,” Crosby said of Hornqvist. “This time of year, with how physical he is and how hard he goes to the net, he's going to create something, whether it's for himself or somebody else. He had some chances. He had some great passes. He's physical. He plays with a ton of intensity and a ton of energy. He's a big part of our team. It's important to have guys like that that can create so much different ways.”
Not only do the Penguins have a healthy respect for Hornqvist's hard-nosed play, but so do the Capitals — especially for his willingness to do the dirty work.
Hornqvist played for Capitals coach Barry Trotz in Nashville, who admired his tenacity to play net-front, and goalie Braden Holtby went as far as to say that if he was a forward he would play the game in the same fashion as Hornqvist.
The move paid off for the Penguins, as Hornqvist did what he does best: He played hard, competed and was disruptive in the crease. In the opening period, Hornqvist redirected one shot off the shoulder of Holtby and whacked away at another loose puck in front of Holtby. In the second period, Hornqvist helped set up two goals in two shifts in the first 1:04.
“I think it was our mindset going into this game,” Hornqvist said. “We were all over them in the first 10 minutes. Then, obviously, in the second period, we got those two goals. …
“We just have to keep playing fast.”
Hornqvist created enough havoc to assist on Crosby's two second-period goals. The first he fed to left wing Jake Guentzel on an odd-man rush that saw the Penguins rookie slide a pass to Crosby for a one-timer and 1-0 lead only 12 seconds into the period.
The second, only 52 seconds later, was all Hornqvist. After Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta's shot was fumbled by Holtby, Hornqvist nudged the puck toward Crosby, who finished it for a 2-0 lead.
“That's how the goals are going to be there,” Hornqvist said.
If the scoring sounds like vintage Crosby against the Capitals, it was.
Although his 17 points, including 10 goals, in 14 playoff games against Washington appear impressive, Crosby did most of the damage in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal. The Penguins captain had eight goals and 13 points in that seven-game series, and only two assists in the six-game series against the Capitals last year.
Although Crosby scored three points in Game 2 against Columbus, he finished the series with two goals and seven points. The Sid and Kids line with Guentzel and Sheary wasn't as productive in that series as it was in their final 14 regular-season games, when they accounted for 24 goals and 54 points.
“Sid always brings a lot of things to the table, even if he doesn't score,” Hornqvist said. “Every night, he brings a lot of energy and a lot of confidence to this group.”
That confidence is missing from Sheary, who was demoted to the third line with Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson and was minus-1 in 12:21 of ice time before being benched. Bonino played the hero, scoring the winner, and the Penguins protected the space around goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the final minutes.
It was a furious finish, bettered only by a strong start that had Hornqvist's signature all over it.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Crosby, Penguins make Capitals pay for lack of fight


April 27, 2017
 Sidney Crosby #87 and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after the Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
Before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, Verizon Center workers handed out red glow sticks to the more than 18,000 fans that packed the arena.
With the lights out before they introduced the two teams, the Verizon Center looked like a red light district.
Then the Capitals proceeded to play as if they prepared for this series by spending a week at the House of the Rising Sun, going on to lose 3-2 to Pittsburgh in Game 1 of this best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Saturday night, back at the red light district.
“The first 10 minutes, we started a little bit slow,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. 
When asked what they needed to do differently in the next game, Trotz said, “A better start.”
How many times have we heard that?
By the third period, Washington had come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game at 2-2 early in the third period, thanks to goals by Alex Ovechkin near the end of the second period and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the third period.
The last red light that mattered, though, was the one that Nick Bonino lit up for the Penguins with 7:24 left to play, giving Pittsburgh the 3-2 lead and, thanks to remarkable goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, that lead stood up.
If you are wearing your Capitals rose-colored glasses (now that would be a worthy promotional giveaway) you can, I guess, look at the shot attempts – 82 for Washington compared to 41 for Pittsburgh, and the Capitals had a big edge on shots on goal – 35 to 21.
But they were battling against a team that had built up a 2-0 lead, and, within minutes of losing it, gained it back, as if this was business as usual for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby and company sized up the lack of fight in the Capitals early in the game, and it wasn’t hard to make that determination. Washington playing at home in the first game of the second round of the playoffs before a juiced up home crowd with the intensity of a game in Edmonton in February.
And Crosby made them pay.
When do the Capitals make the Penguins pay?
“They are up one, so our next game has to be our best game,” Trotz said.
But are the Capitals capable of playing their best game in the second round of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Nothing we have seen to date tells us that they are.
Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

A year later, Penguins’ Nick Bonino beats Capitals again in Game 1


April 27, 2017
Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores a goal in front of Brooks Orpik #44 of the Washington Capitals in the third period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. The Pittsburgh Penguins won, 3-2. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Many of the Washington Capitals can still clearly recall how their season ended a year ago. There was Nick Bonino in his black and gold No. 13 jersey in front of the net. He threw his arms up in the air as the Pittsburgh Penguins advanced, and the Capitals spent the next year stewing.
On Thursday night, there was Bonino again in front of the net, again celebrating as he pushed the Penguins past Washington in a playoff game. His goal in the third period lifted Pittsburgh to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the second-round series.
The good news for the Capitals going forward is that they climbed out of a two-goal hole by outplaying Pittsburgh with a 35-21 edge in shots on goal, controlling possession in the second half of the game despite not getting a single power play all night. The bad news is that despite being the better team for the majority of the game, their costly errors have them in an early series deficit.
“We did a lot of good things, but we didn’t obviously do enough,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “I just thought all three goals [by Pittsburgh] were very preventable on our side today.”
Washington was able to tie the game in the third period with a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Capitals fans are often pleading for him to shoot, and he picked the perfect moment to do just that, with Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury turned toward Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen on the left side as Niskanen sent the perfect pass to Kuznetsov waiting on the right side.
Kuznetsov tapped the puck into an open back door, tying the game 8:05 into the third period after the Penguins had taken a 2-0 lead early in the second.
Kuznetsov was criticized for his play in Washington’s second-round series against Pittsburgh a year ago. In 12 playoff games, he contributed just one goal and one assist, disappointing production for a player who had led the team in scoring during the regular season. This year has gone differently for him. He centered the most effective line in the Capitals’ first-round series against Toronto, and he has already doubled his postseason production from a year ago with two goals and two assists in seven games.
He produced the equalizer, but he was also on the ice for Bonino’s decider with 7:24 left. On a quick breakout that seemed to catch the Capitals off guard, Bonino got behind Washington defensemen Brooks Orpik and Kevin Shattenkirk as he drove the net and tucked a shot under goaltender Braden Holtby’s armpit to give the Penguins the lead for good. After the game, Holtby said that goal was one he could have stopped.
“It’s a little bit our mistake, my line,” Kuznetsov said. “They played okay. And we played okay today. Overall, it was a good game.”
This series has often been billed as pitting the NHL’s two longtime superstars in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Both players have groused at that because they don’t play the same position — Crosby is a center, Ovechkin a winger — and they have talented players surrounding them. But the first two periods of the game seemed to follow that narrative.
Eight years after Crosby and Ovechkin had dueling hat tricks in a second-round playoff game against each other, both got the scoring started for their respective teams. A scoreless first period was followed by Crosby scoring twice in the first 64 seconds of the second period. A neutral-zone turnover by Niskanen off the opening draw led to a two-on-one with Jake Guentzel and Crosby, which Crosby finished. Holtby wanted that goal back, too.
Pittsburgh’s top line scored on its next shift, too. Crosby punched in a rebound off a shot from Patric Hornqvist. Suddenly, it was 2-0. It was nearly 3-0 just a few moments later, but Holtby stepped up to stop one of Phil Kessel’s signature wrist shots on a partial breakaway.
“The first two minutes of the second, that’s where it went wrong,” Trotz said. “We give up two goals. We just mismanaged the puck at that point.”
As Washington tried to rally, fans in Verizon Center started to show frustration. The Capitals had opened the game with just one shot on goal in the first 14:43. Down 2-0 in the second period, Washington initially struggled to generate quality scoring chances. In the last five minutes of the period, fans started chanting “shoot the puck,” even as the Capitals were even in shots with the Penguins at the time. Ovechkin happily obliged.
After a powerful open-ice hit by defenseman John Carlson on Evgeni Malkin, Carlson separated the big Pittsburgh center from the puck to regain possession. T.J. Oshie moved the puck up the ice before Lars Eller passed it to Ovechkin just above the left faceoff circle, Ovechkin’s sweet spot. Ovechkin’s wrist shot was perfectly placed, soaring past Fleury and into the top of the net. That halved the deficit before the third period, where Bonino once again provided the dagger.

“[Bonino] is a guy who’s a high-stakes player,” Pittsburgh Coach Mike Sullivan said. “He brings his best game when the games are most important.”
The Capitals admitted they have been looking forward to this rematch for a year. The Penguins ousted them in the second round last season en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Neither team was guaranteed to get back to this point, but it seemed inevitable that Washington, in perhaps its best chance to contend for a championship, would have to get past Pittsburgh.
The teams both made offseason tweaks, but even with those, the rosters were largely the same as they were in the teams’ last postseason meeting a year ago, and Washington and Pittsburgh were the NHL’s two best teams in the regular season.
The Capitals’ slight personnel adjustments this summer were made to be better prepared for this matchup should it occur again. The team felt it was the Penguins’ secondary scoring, particularly a third line with Bonino, that beat them a year ago rather than superstar centers Crosby and Malkin. Washington responded by trading for Eller during the summer to center the third line and then signing free agent winger Brett Connolly, who scored a career-high 15 goals this season.
But with the game tied in the third period and the Capitals having an opportunity to start the series on a positive note, they once again had no answer for Bonino.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If Penguins beat Capitals, it won't be Alexander Ovechkin's fault


By Mark Madden
April 27, 2017
Image result for ovechkin penguins playoffs fleury
Marc-Andre Fleury stops Alex Ovechkin in the 2009 playoffs. (Photo: www.WashingtonPost.com)

The second-round Stanley Cup playoff series between the Penguins and Washington seems a legitimate toss-up.
Kris Letang’s absence could tilt things in the Capitals’ favor. Washington has superior depth and physicality, but Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom outnumbered.
If the Penguins split at D.C., like last year, they win the series. The Capitals need to win the first two games.
This matchup offers few guarantees. But it’s safe to bet that if the Capitals don’t advance, it won’t be Ovechkin’s fault.
Ovechkin is often branded a loser by talk-show morons (hosts and callers alike) because he’s never won a Cup. The Capitals have never even advanced past the second round in the Ovechkin era, which is hard to fathom.
But Ovechkin is an accomplished postseason performer, with 44 goals and 41 assists in 90 career playoff games. His effort and physicality is often overwhelming. (That’s where no Letang is crippling. Among Penguins defensemen, only he can match Ovechkin stride for stride and hit for hit.)
When the Penguins eliminated the Capitals in 2009, Ovechkin had eight goals and seven assists in that series’ seven games. Ovechkin did everything he possibly could to win.
Except score on a fourth-minute breakaway when Game 7 was still 0-0, that is. The Penguins went on to win, 6-2.
OK, so Ovechkin’s playoff resume isn’t perfect.
Ovechkin had two goals and five assists in last season’s six-game defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh. Letang held him largely in check.
Who, among the Penguins’ right-sided defensemen, is this year’s best bet to match up with Ovechkin? Ron Hainsey, perhaps, given his size (6-foot-3) and reach. Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley can keep up, but rely too much on finesse. Chad Ruhwedel would be a turnstile. None of the options can manage Letang’s minutes.
Ovechkin dominates on the power play, launching rockets from the left circle. How does the Penguins’ PK approach that? If the Penguins man up, Ovechkin can drift down low and open up ice for his teammates.
Ovechkin is simply a handful. The best goal-scorer of his generation. His career total might approach 800, especially amazing in the dead-puck era. Had Ovechkin played in the wide-open ‘80s, he might have netted 1,000.
This wasn’t a primo year for Ovechkin, 31. After scoring 50 or more goals in each of the last three seasons, he got just 33.
Does that mean he’s fading? That would help the Penguins. Ovechkin led the NHL in power-play goals with 17, so he scored just 16 at even strength.
If Ovechkin never wins a Cup, it will definitely put an informal asterisk on all his individual accomplishments. But he’s no choker.
Dan Marino never won a championship at any level of football. But he’s still one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. No one insults his lack of rings.
Some athletes gag, and that’s why they lose.
Some deserve to win, but don’t.
That’s Ovechkin so far. Blame his teammates, blame his coaches, blame management. But don’t blame Ovechkin.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Pirates beat Cubs 6-5 as Ngoepe becomes first African in MLB

The Associated Press
April 26, 2017
Image result for gift ngoepe pittsburgh pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates' Gift Ngoepe, a native of South Africa, and the first baseball player from the continent of Africa to play in the Major Leagues, hits a single off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester in his first at-bat in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH -- 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."
It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.
"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 RBI 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.
UP NEXT
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).