Josh Harrison knows the signs. They're unmissable. Solid starting pitching. Stellar work by the bullpen. Timely hits and aggressive baserunning.
It's a formula that carried the Pittsburgh Pirates to the playoffs from 2013-15, one that is starting to pop up a little more regularly as Pittsburgh tries to keep pace in a lukewarm National League Central race.
Jameson Taillon scattered seven hits over 6 1/3 innings, Gregory Polanco and John Jaso hit solo home runs and the Pirates shut down Tampa Bay 4-0 on Thursday night for their fourth win in their last six games as they try to scramble back near the .500 mark as the halfway point looms this weekend.
"I think a lot of guys that have been here, the core guys, we've been through adversity before," said Harrison, who had two hits and was also hit twice to raise his total to a major-league high 18. "So what was thrown at us earlier this year, things that are still being thrown at us, we know at the end of the day, we've been in adversity, we've got to keep playing and know everybody will come around."
Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 3 with a single and an RBI and is hitting .397 since June 1 to raise his season average to .278.
"He's an elite player," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's in a good place, he's confident, he's convicted in the box. He's showing us the ability he's had."
Taillon (4-2) walked two and struck out four in his longest outing since returning from a battle with testicular cancer earlier this month, lowering his ERA to 2.97 despite allowing at least one base runner in six of the seven innings he worked. Considering he was undergoing cancer treatment six weeks ago wondering if his season was in jeopardy, Taillon will take it.
"Time away is tough," Taillon said. "You're sitting there watching guys play and you're not able to contribute. That's tough. I wanted a chance to come back and I wanted a chance to pitch for something and here I am."
Chris Archer (6-5) allowed three runs in six innings, striking out five without issuing a walk for Tampa Bay, which has lost four of five. Logan Morrison and Shane Peterson had two hits apiece for the Rays but Tampa Bay went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. The Rays left 21 runners on base while losing the final two games of the interleague series.
"I don't want to make excuses but we hit the ball pretty hard all series long," said Rays outfielder Steven Sousa Jr., who went 0 for 5.
Though the Rays kept pecking away at him, Taillon worked in and out of trouble with relative ease. Despite all the traffic, the Rays only reached third base once against him. Taillon exited with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh. Tony Watson, demoted from his closer's role earlier this month, struck out Corey Dickerson and got Evan Longoria to pop up to first base to end the threat.
Archer, trying to win his third consecutive start, couldn't quite keep pace. Three consecutive one-out Pittsburgh singles in the third, the last by the rejuvenated McCutchen, gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Jaso made it 2-0 with his sixth home run of the season leading off the fourth. Polanco, dropped from third to sixth in the batting order while mired in a deep slump, drilled his sixth homer to right center to push the advantage to 3-0.
"Cutch was MVP for a reason," Archer said. "I'm glad I was able to limit the damage a little bit but they definitely gave me a tough time."
SALUTING THE UMP
PNC Park gave umpire John Tumpane a standing ovation before the first pitch, a way of saying thanks after Tumpane helped save a woman in distress on the Roberto Clemente Bridge on Wednesday. The rescue was caught by a photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tumpane's selfless act made him an unlikely celebrity. Tumpane, who spent part of Thursday doing a series of interviews, continued to downplay his role, saying he was simply in the right place at the right time.
Rays: Activated reliever Brad Boxberger off the 60-day DL and designated reliever Danny Farquhar for assignment. Boxberger was an All-Star in 2015 when he led the American League with 41 saves. He will work in a setup role for current Tampa Bay closer Alex Colome. Farquhar was 2-2 with a 4.11 ERA in 37 appearances with the Rays this season.
Rays: Continue an eight-game trip in Baltimore on Friday when rookie Jake Faria (3-0, 2.10 ERA) takes the hill against Chris Tillman (1-5, 8.39 ERA). The Orioles took two of three from the Rays in Tampa last weekend.
Pirates: Host the struggling San Francisco Giants in a weekend series starting Friday. Gerrit Cole (6-6, 4.11 ERA) looks for his fourth straight victory in the opener.
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