CHICAGO — On most days, Kris Bryant’s three solid plays at third base would have covered the defensive highlights for the Chicago Cubs.
This time, Bryant had to settle for a perfect view of Addison Russell’s sliding grab in the seventh inning.
“I had a front-row seat and that was one of the best catches I’ve seen,” Bryant said.
Bryant hit his 36th homer and Russell drove in two runs to help the Cubs to a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, completing a series sweep. But it was the defense by the left side of Chicago’s All-Star infield that stole the show.
Andrew McCutchen’s bases-loaded walk trimmed Chicago’s lead to 5-2 with two outs in the seventh before Gregory Polanco hit a flare down the third-base line that looked like trouble for the Cubs.
Russell sprinted over from shortstop and made a terrific catch near the home bullpen, drawing a huge ovation from the crowd of 38,137 at Wrigley Field and several swear words from his incredulous teammates.
“It was an awesome moment for us,” Russell said.
And a downer for the Pirates (67-64), who closed out a 4-3 trip that began with a sweep in Milwaukee. They trails the Cardinals by 2 1/2 games for the second NL wild card.
“The play by Russell down the line was fantastic,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “If that ball gets in the corner you get a couple more runs.”
Jason Hammel pitched six innings of one-run ball as Chicago equaled the best August in franchise history with a 22-6 record, also accomplished in 1932. It was the Cubs’ first time with 22 wins in a month since it went 22-10 in September 1945.
Heading into the final stretch of the season, the Cubs (85-47) are rapidly closing in on their first division title since 2008. They begin September with the majors’ best record at a season-high 38 games over .500 and a whopping 15-game lead over second-place St. Louis in the NL Central.
“You never even could imagine that you would have this kind of a lead at this particular point in the season,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Hammel (14-7) allowed three hits and struck out six in his first start since he was pulled in the third inning of a 3-2 loss at the Dodgers on Saturday, prompting the frustrated right-hander to meet with Maddon to discuss what he felt was a quick hook by the manager.
Jordy Mercer had two hits and two RBIs for Pittsburgh, which dropped to 3-12 against Chicago this year. Josh Harrison had two hits and drove in a run.
Pitching for the third straight day, Aroldis Chapman worked a rocky ninth inning for his 32nd save in 35 chances. He threw three wild pitches and yielded Francisco Cervelli’s two-out RBI single before striking out Mercer with two on with his 11th pitch of the at-bat.
“I wasn’t going down without a fight, that’s for sure,” Mercer said. “What do you got to lose, right? He throws the hardest ball ever, so just battle and hope for the best.”
Bryant went 2 for 4 and reached base three times while extending his hitting streak to 13 games. The second-year slugger is tied with Colorado’s Nolan Arenado for the NL lead in homers and tops the majors with 111 runs scored.
A brisk wind blowing in from left field was no match for Bryant, who drove an 0-1 pitch from Ryan Vogelsong (3-4) into the bleachers in left in the first. It was Bryant’s 10th homer in August.
Bryant made a diving grab to rob Sean Rodriguez of an RBI single in the second. He went behind the bag to take a hit away from Harrison in the third and reached into the stands to retire Josh Bell on a foul popup in the fourth.
“He just plays well wherever you put him on defense,” Maddon said. “He’s just a good baseball player.”
The Pirates traded LHP Kyle Lobstein to the Baltimore Orioles for LHP Zach Phillips. The 29-year-old Phillips was 9-3 with one save and a 4.45 ERA in 49 appearances for Triple-A Norfolk this season. He will be assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Cubs: RHP Joe Smith (left hamstring strain) and OF Chris Coghlan (right rib contusion) likely will be activated from the DL when major league rosters expand on Thursday.
Pirates: Following a day off, the Pirates begin a 10-game homestand with a weekend series against the Brewers. RHP Jameson Taillon (3-3, 3.39 ERA) takes on Milwaukee RHP Junior Guerra (7-3, 2.93 ERA) in the opener on Friday night.
Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (1-1, 3.50 ERA) gets the ball when Chicago hosts San Francisco in the opener of a four-game set on Thursday night. RHP Jeff Samardzija (11-9, 4.50 ERA), who played for the Cubs for seven years, pitches for the Giants.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap