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Another highlight catch, another big hitting night for Cub kids

Kris Bryant drives a home run through the wind in left during Wednesday's first inning -- his 36th homer of the year.

Jason Hammel pitched “outstanding,” according to his manager.

But after his victory over the Pirates Wednesday night, the Cubs’ starter seemed most interested in talking about the Cubs’ fielding – including a highlight-reel catch of a foul popup in left field by shortstop Addison Russell.

“We’ve got two Catch of the Year nominees now between him and Rizz,” Hammel said, referring also to first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s wall-climbing catch of a foul ball over the seats past the first-base dugout Aug. 16 against the Brewers.

“And KB with the big play in the second inning,” Hammel added of third baseman Kris Bryant’s diving catch of Sean Rodriguez’s line drive to end the second with a man on third. “We’re spoiled with the defense we have.”

The Cubs’ pitching staff has the top ERA in baseball, but often overlooked is the fact that the Cubs have the best group of fielders in baseball at turning balls in play into outs.

Russell’s play in Wednesday’s seventh was Exhibit A for that relationship – the Gold Glove candidate, who was shaded toward the middle, sprinting near the line with two out and the bases loaded in a 5-2 game to make a sliding catch that saved at least two runs.

“That was huge in that situation,” Bryant said. “I thought it was [left fielder Matt] Szczur’s ball, and then Addison comes out of nowhere.

“I had a front-row seat and that was one of the best catches I’ve seen.”

Russell said he anticipated Gregory Polanco hitting the ball up the middle but got a good read on the wind-blown pop to left field.

“I pounced on it as quick as I can,” he said. “I thought there was no way I was going to make that play but hustled over there and got a glove on it and just was able to make the play. It was awesome.”

Gold Glove? “He’s been nothing short of spectacular this year,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Maybe Bryant, too? “If you look at him, at any place we put him he’s an above-average defender,” said Maddon, who has also played Bryant extensively in the corner outfield spots. “It’s probably not talked about as much as his offense, but anywhere you put him, you feel good about it.”

Offense? Bryant hit his 36th home run in Wednesday’s first inning. He singled and scored again in the fourth. It was Russell who singled him home in the fourth for an 85th RBI.

Bryant is 24. Russell is 22. Neither has completed a full season in the majors yet.

“This team’s going to be really good for a long time,” Hammel said. “These kids, they’re impressive. And they continue to dazzle, and you can’t really say it’s a surprise because we’ve come to expect all these great plays and the big knocks that they’re driving in.

“We’re witnessing greatness with a lot of young kids right now.”