PITTSBURGH -- Alex Avila spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Tigers before signing with the Chicago White Sox for the 2016 campaign. He returned this year to Detroit, where he languished with a slumping team until the Cubs acquired the veteran catcher at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July. It was a prescient move. Willson Contreras pulled his hamstring nearly two weeks later and only now is he ready to return.
Meanwhile, Avila very much enjoys where he is.
"We're in first place," he said Wednesday when asked about his new surroundings. This was after he stroked the game-winning hit, a broken-bat ninth-inning triple that scored the game's only run in a 1-0 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
The Cubs, who dropped the first two games of the series and have totaled four runs in the three games, lead the Cardinals by four games and the Brewers by 4 1/2 games in the National League Central.
Avila in a short time with his new team has contributed "a lot of big hits," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. He also is solid behind the plate, as he demonstrated by throwing out Jordan Luplow trying to steal second base in the eighth inning to keep the Pirates out of scoring position.
"He's not overwhelmed by the situation," Maddon said. "Been there, done that. He's been in some large games with some really good pitchers. He's able to slow the game [down] really well. ... I like the way he blocks [the plate] really well and he's got a slightly above-average arm, and quick feet. That's what I've seen. He's a wonderful addition."
Going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Pirates starter Gerrit Cole, who gave up two hits in eight innings, Avila stepped in against Pirates reliever Daniel Hudson in the ninth with two outs. Leonys Martin was on second base, which he stole pinch-running for Anthony Rizzo, who walked.
"Your opportunities are limited," Avila said. "You try to take advantage of the pitch that you can handle a little bit. He left that changeup up, and I was able to put a good swing on it."
Avila broke his bat and the ball carried just far enough to right field. Aided by Luplow shading the catcher to center, Avila wound up on third base with his first triple since 2013, just the Cubs' third hit of the game, and they had all they would need. Closer Wade Davis, looking as sharp as he has all season, Maddon said, recorded two strikeouts in a perfect ninth for his 29th save.
Cubs starter Jose Quintana, who struggled for much of the season, showed the past form the Cubs desired when they acquired the left-hander during the All-Star break. The former White Sox pitcher gave up six hits in six scoreless innings. He struck out six and walked one. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Davis finished up.
"'Q' was good," Maddon said. "He was real good. I thought he maintained his stuff. Great job. Really good changeup. I thought him and Alex worked well together."