CHICAGO -- Felipe Vazquez's laptop and mixing board usually provide the soundtrack after every win. Cell phone in hand, Gregory Polanco extends his long arms to film himself and as many of his teammates as he can capture. Then, as a team, the Pirates dance.Two weeks into the season, the
CHICAGO -- Felipe Vazquez's laptop and mixing board usually provide the soundtrack after every win. Cell phone in hand, Gregory Polanco extends his long arms to film himself and as many of his teammates as he can capture. Then, as a team, the Pirates dance.
Two weeks into the season, the Bucs have danced more than most everyone expected.
Polanco outslugged the Cubs on Thursday afternoon, hitting a pair of solo home runs and boosting his MLB-leading RBI total to 15. Right-hander Trevor Williams held the Cubs to one run on four hits over six strong innings and Francisco Cervelli's three-run shot in the seventh broke open the Bucs' 6-1 victory.
"It's always fun to win. If we can keep that going, I think it'll be a lot of fun the rest of the year," Adam Frazier said. "We'll take it one game at a time, enjoy each victory. Like [Ivan] Nova says, it's a big league W -- those aren't easy to come by, and we just try to celebrate those wins."
The Pirates arrived in Chicago earlier this week with two series victories and a 7-2 record, but there were still doubts. Six of their wins came against the rebuilding Tigers and Reds. Facing the Cubs during their home-opening series, it seemed, would be a truer test of their ability.
So the Pirates blasted music, danced and shouted inside the cramped visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field early Thursday evening. Third-base coach Joey Cora got in on the action this time, pumping his fists as he bounced around the room. They had much to celebrate: a well-played win on the road, a series victory over the reigning division champions and a 9-3 start, Pittsburgh's best record through 12 games since the 10-2 club in 1992.
"You're seeing that we're having fun, and we're going to keep it like that. We've got to keep it like that," Polanco said. "When we're doing this video and we're dancing, that's everybody together -- not just one guy or two guys. Everybody together. That's what we want. We want to stay together as friends, as a family, as brothers. That's how we're going to do it."
On Thursday, their strengths came to the forefront. Frazier, Polanco and Cervelli homered. Their deep lineup drew seven walks and pounced when they got to the Cubs' bullpen, turning a narrow lead into a five-run game with a four-run seventh. The Pirates headed to Miami on Thursday night leading the Majors in OPS (.832) and leading the National League with 77 runs scored.
"They can hit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They have a really good offensive club. It starts with them there."
Williams improved to 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA that ranks sixth (just behind Jameson Taillon) in the NL. A key member of the Pirates' young rotation, Williams worked deep enough into the game that manager Clint Hurdle could bypass Pittsburgh's shaky middle-relief corps and hand a lead to the late-inning trio of Michael Feliz, George Kontos and Vazquez.
Then, they danced.
"I'm very pleased with what we're doing. I think they'll tell you the same thing," Hurdle said. "I don't think anybody will tell you they're satisfied."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
El Coffee is hot: Polanco launched an 88.6-mph four-seam fastball from Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks into the bleachers with one out in the first. The ball traveled a projected 440 feet, Polanco's third-longest homer since Statcast™ began tracking distances. He blasted his second homer with one out in the seventh, this time off lefty Justin Wilson -- his first homer off a lefty since Aug. 23, 2016, also the date of his last multi-homer game. It was Polanco's third career multi-homer game and his first this season.
"You've got to see it up. It's hard to get extra-base [hits] or homers when the pitch is down. That's the pitcher's pitch down there," Polanco said. "You've got to stay with your plan and put a good swing on it."
Third time through: Data supports the idea that most starting pitchers, especially young ones, should not face hitters a third time. The third time through, batting averages and power numbers tend to jump significantly. But Williams seemed to improve as his start went on Thursday, and the sixth inning has been a sore spot for the Pirates early on, so Williams returned to the mound in the sixth with a one-run lead and the heart of Chicago's due up for the third time.
"There's a lot of books out there right now that tell you right now you can't do that. You're not supposed to do that," Hurdle said. "We talk to our guys about, 'OK, how are we going to figure out how to do that?'"
Williams figured it out. Kristopher Bryant and Benjamin Zobrist grounded out. Kyle Schwarber, who homered in the fourth, beat the shift with a double that ricocheted off third base, but Addison Russell flied out to center. Williams pounded his right hand into his glove as he walked off the mound.
"It's big. It's our second year now together, and it's one of those things where that trust was established last year and we know that going into the season," Williams said. "It's a big part of the game, too. … I was confident I could get those guys out, and thankfully Clint was confident in me as well."
"Looking back on it, I think this series is going to sparkle for some fans. … The Cubs are world champions. They're a good team. They're a team to beat in the Central. It's good for us to take two out of three here, especially early on." -- Williams, on the Pirates winning their first series of the year against the Cubs
"Sometimes people misdirect. It's not so much always about proving people wrong. … It's about proving yourself right. That's one thing we tried to maintain is proving ourselves right. What do we believe in? How are we going to do it together? Let's just go do it. We have the ability to control that." -- Hurdle, on the Pirates' hot start
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Corey Dickerson extended his hitting streak with one out in the Pirates' ninth when he doubled. He now has hit safely in seven straight games and has six doubles in that stretch.
In Polanco's most recent multi-homer game, his first long ball came against Joe Musgrove, now his teammate. The last lefty he homered against was Astros reliever Tony Sipp.
It was an odd day, weather-wise, at Wrigley Field. The game-time temperature at the start was 74 degrees with a hitter-friendly northwest wind of 14 mph. By the fourth inning, the wind had shifted to the northeast at 16 mph, and the temperature dropped to 57 degrees. Despite the conditions, Frazier and Cervelli homered.
Hendricks became the first opposing starter to record an out in the sixth against Pittsburgh since Michael Fulmer worked eight innings on April 1 in the Pirates' second game of the season.
Right-hander Chad Kuhl (1-0, 5.06 ERA) will start for the Pirates as they begin a three-game series against the Marlins on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Marlins Park. One player to watch? Polanco, a career .435/.500/.674 hitter with 20 hits in 12 career games in Miami.
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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.