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2017 Cubs victories revisited, September 6: Cubs 1, Pirates 0

Alex Avila was the hero.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs broke a three-game losing streak with this win, which brought their record to 76-63. They led the N.L. Central by four games and their magic number to clinch the division title was 20.

Acquiring Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers looks like one of the best moves the Cubs made all season.

For the second time in three weeks, Avila had a game-winning hit in the last inning of play. On August 20, it was an extra-inning walkoff single against the Blue Jays. This time, it was a ninth-inning triple that scored the only run in a 1-0 Cubs win over the Pirates:

This was the Cubs’ second 1-0 win of 2017. The other one was also against the Pirates. In PNC Park on April 25. Also with Gerrit Cole as the opposing pitcher. Not that I feel sorry for Cole, not one bit.

Cole began the evening by getting upset with plate umpire Paul Nauert. Nauert replied with a game thread word I think all of you can lipread (and hear!):

After that, though, both Cole and Cubs starter Jose Quintana settled in. The Cubs had only two hits off Cole, an infield single by Javier Baez in the second inning and another single by Jon Jay in the eighth. They had runners in scoring position off Cole just twice: Jason Heyward had walked ahead of Baez’ single, and on a pair of walks in the first inning that helped lead to the Cole-Nauert staredown. (The two had a chat after that inning that seemed to settle things.)

Quintana was nearly as good. The Pirates had several baserunners in the first five innings, but could not score. Kris Bryant helped Q out with this nice snag of a line drive to end the fourth inning:

In the sixth, Quintana got in trouble when Andrew McCutchen and David Freese led off the inning with singles. That’s when Javy showed off some fancy glovework:

A little bit better relay from Bryant to Tommy La Stella and that might have turned into a triple play. As it was, it took a lot of pressure off Q — now there are two out and a runner on first. Quintana got Sean Rodriguez to hit into a force play on the next pitch to end the inning.

At 105 pitches, that was the end of Quintana’s evening, one of his better outings since joining the Cubs.

And the much-maligned Cubs bullpen did its job. Hector Rondon threw a 1-2-3 seventh. Pedro Strop issued a one-out walk in the eighth, but otherwise was untouched.

Then it was the Cubs’ turn to generate just enough offense to win. Anthony Rizzo walked with one out and was replaced by pinch-runner Leonys Martin. This move was second-guessed by some, but I thought it was the right thing to do. The game appeared to be one that could be won by a run, and Martin’s speed immediately produced a stolen base. That was followed by Avila’s triple; obviously Rizzo would have scored on that, but that couldn’t have been known before Martin entered the game.

So far, outfielder Martin’s two appearances in a Cubs uniform have been as a pitcher and as a pinch-runner, but if you watch him and the expressions on his face, he appears to be having great fun. Good for him, and good for the Cubs.

About Avila’s triple:

The timing was perfect for that hit, and Wade Davis had a perfect ninth for his 29th save in 29 opportunities. He struck out two, and truth be told, the Pirates might have had a quibble with Paul Nauert on both calls:

We, however, will take them.

The Cubs’ win, coupled with the Brewers’ loss to the Reds and the Cardinals’ win over the Padres, put St. Louis in second place four games behind the Cubs and Milwaukee dropped to third, 4½ games back. The Cubs’ magic number for clinching their second straight N.L. Central title dropped to 20. The Brewers have Thursday off and the Cardinals will face the Padres again in San Diego.

The Cubs will wrap up this four-game set as well as the season series against the Pirates Thursday evening. Jon Lester goes for the Cubs and Jameson Taillon for the Pirates.