Wait what? Bizarre sequence helps Cubs top Pirates 5-3

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Will Craig, right, tosses the ball to catcher Michael Perez, left, after Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez (9) hit a fielder's choice third to first and was caught in a rundown between home and first during the third inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, May 27, 2021. Cub's Willson Contreras, top center, scores on the play and Báez reached second on an errant throw by Pirates' catcher Perez. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Javier Báez hit reverse and chaos ensued. Embarrassment too for the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates.

The unpredictable Chicago Cubs shortstop ran the first baseline backward while being chased by Pittsburgh first baseman Will Craig in the top of the third inning on Thursday, leading to a comedy of errors during a two-run rally in Chicago’s 5-3 victory.

Chicago’s Willson Contreras was on second with two outs when Báez hit a routine grounder to third baseman Erik González. González’s throw to Craig at first was up the line. Báez hit the brakes to avoid Craig’s tag and started backtracking toward the plate. Rather than turn and jog a few steps to first for an inning-ending force, Craig curiously decided to follow Báez.

The move bought enough time for Contreras to round third and sprint home. Craig attempted a flip to catcher Michael Pérez, but Contreras slid under the tag while Báez took off for first. Pérez’s throw to first sailed past second baseman Adam Frazier attempting to cover the bag, allowing Báez to race to second.

Báez scored moments later on a single by Ian Happ to give the Cubs a three-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Kris Bryant hit his 11th home run, and Patrick Wisdom added his first home run since 2018 for the Cubs, who have won eight of nine. Contreras, Bryant and Wisdom finished with two hits each.

Kyle Hendricks (5-4) overcame solo home runs by Perez, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds to win his third straight start. Hendricks allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and no walks. Ryan Tepera worked 1 1/3 innings for his first save in three years.

Tyler Anderson (3-5) dropped his second consecutive decision thanks in part to Craig’s baffling decision and a little bit of bad luck. Anderson appeared to hit Wisdom leading off the fourth, a call that was reversed to a foul ball on replay. Four pitches later Wisdom sent a fly ball over the fence in left-center field to make it 4-0. The homer was Wisdom’s first in the major leagues since Sept. 15, 2018 when he played for St. Louis.

Anderson surrendered four runs — three earned — four hits and a walk with four strikeouts in five innings. Reynolds and Polanco went deep on back-to-back pitches from Hendricks in the fifth. Pérez, who came in hitting just .098, pulled the Pirates within one with a home run in the seventh.

Pittsburgh loaded the base in the eighth but couldn’t pull even and lost for the ninth time in 10 games. The Pirates are 6-20 since scratching above .500 at 12-11 a month ago.