Cubs clinch playoff spot, Pirates win on Stallings HR in 9th

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Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, right, celebrates with Kyle Schwarber (12) as he returns to the dugout after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Sam Howard during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH – The Chicago Cubs clinched a playoff spot under rookie manager David Ross, returning to the postseason after a one-year absence despite losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 Tuesday night on a walk-off home run by Jacob Stallings.

The NL Central-leading Cubs were assured a spot in the expanded playoff field when Philadelphia was swept in a doubleheader at Washington.

The Cubs began the day with a 4 ½-game lead over St. Louis and Cincinnati in the division standings and a magic number of four to clinch the title. Chicago missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2014.

“It’s very rewarding for that group in there that they’ve put in a lot of hard work in a unique atmosphere that has presented a lot of challenges,” said Ross, who took over for Joe Maddon this season. “Being away from their families, being tested, it would be really easy to get outside the rules, but they stayed accountable to one another. There’s so much to be proud of from my point of view.”

Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo also feels reaching the postseason in 2020 is a notable accomplishment.

“This isn’t something we’re going to take for granted because it’s not easy,” he said.

Stallings connected with one out in the ninth inning off Andrew Chafin (1-2) to help the Pirates end their five-game losing streak and win for the just second time in 15 games. It was Stallings’ third home run of the season and the third game-ending hit of his career.

Chafin got the final out of the eighth and first of the ninth before Stallings sent a 2-2 pitch down the left field line and into the bleachers. The Pirates’ shouts of joy echoed over throughout the empty ballpark.