PITTSBURGH -- Everything seemed to be working out in the Pirates' favor on Tuesday. After trading for Rangers closer Keone Kela on Tuesday morning and Rays right-hander Chris Archer on Tuesday afternoon, Pittsburgh continued to showcase its commitment to winning with a 5-4 victory over the Cubs at PNC Park on Tuesday evening.
The Pirates have gone 16-4 since July 8 -- including 11 straight victories July 11-24 -- giving them the best record in the Major Leagues since that date. Tuesday's events, both on and off the field, further enhanced the sense of exuberance inside Pittsburgh's clubhouse, as the team has placed itself in contention for a playoff berth going into August.
"We're having so much fun right now," Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco said. "Not just today, but the last month. We're playing really good. We're having fun … We've got to have fun."
The excitement of Tuesday for the Pirates' organization began in the early morning, when it was announced they'd traded for Kela, a young right-handed reliever, to help bolster the bullpen. It continued later in the day when they made one of the biggest moves prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline by dealing for a controllable starter in Archer.
"We're really excited for the additions," right-hander Jameson Taillon said. "I think we still kind of don't really have anything to lose, so we're going to keep playing free. We're going to hopefully play complete games like we've been doing and see what we can make happen."
Still riding the adrenaline from their acquisitions, the Pirates were tasked with facing Jonathan Lester and the first-place Cubs on Tuesday evening. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised the veteran left-hander after the game, stating that, "If there's opportunities to plate some runs, you need to get them."
The Pirates capitalized on that opportunity with the score tied at 3 in the fifth inning. Polanco drew a two-out walk, and in the ensuing at-bat, David Freese connected on a low curveball from Lester and drove it to right field to score Polanco and give the Pirates a one-run advantage.
Polanco came to the plate again to lead off the eighth inning. He swung at a first-pitch fastball from Justin Wilson, belting it into the right-field seats to offer the Pirates insurance.
The run would prove to be the difference as Felipe Vazquez gave up an RBI double to Addison Russell in the ninth inning. However, just as they seemingly had all day, things worked out in favor of the Pirates and the southpaw held on for his 24th save of the season.
Pittsburgh now sits six games behind the Cubs and Brewers for first place in the National League Central. With 54 games to go, and help on the way, the Pirates have a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about the way this season is shaping up. That optimism just might be the secret ingredient to their success going forward.
"That's our key. That's our power," Polanco said. "Playing aggressive. Playing happy. Enjoying the game, man, because it's a journey not everybody has. We're here. We've got to take advantage, enjoy the game and play hard every day."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With a runner on first base and nobody out in the ninth inning, Russell drove a ball to the right-center field gap. He sprinted around second and dove into the the bag at third, where he was initially ruled safe. After review, replay determined that Russell failed to maintain contact with the base as Freese held the tag on him. He was called out, and Vazquez retired the next two batters to end the game.
"You kind of catch the ball and then looking into the tag," Freese said. "It just kind of felt like he might've went past it and had some type of body part not on the bag. Good time to challenge, obviously."
"I'd like to see the definitive replay on that last play, because I didn't see it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "For me, the call on the field has integrity, and I really need to see why that was changed. I looked at the video, and there had to be assumptions made and part of replay is to not assume. That's my only gripe tonight -- I didn't get that one."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Taillon fired up: Clinging to a one-run lead in the sixth inning, Taillon gave up a leadoff ground-rule double to Javier Baez. He then induced a ground ball from Albert Almora Jr., resulting in an out at first base as Baez moved up to third. Taillon got Ian Happ to line out to second base, before snagging a comebacker off the bat of Willson Contreras to end the inning and strand Baez on third.
"I was impressed I caught it," Taillon said. "Fielding my position hasn't been my greatest strength this year. We've been working on it and trying to get better. That can be a game-changing play."
HE SAID IT
"Man, it's exciting. What we're doing right now is just winning ballgames in a city that kind of demands that and wants to feel victories. It's fun to be a part of." -- Freese, on the Pirates' winning ways
Nick Kingham will start for the Pirates on Wednesday as they wrap up a two-game set with the Cubs at PNC Park at 7:05 p.m. ET. Kingham will look to rebound after allowing six earned runs over three innings in a loss to the Mets in his last start. Southpaw Cole Hamels will make his debut for the Cubs.