CINCINNATI -- Tom Gorzelanny walked off the mound in his brand new blue jersey, satisfied with everything he had done in his Cubs debut.
There was a surprise waiting before he got to the dugout.
The left-hander got a standing ovation from thousands of Cubs fans in the stands after he allowed three hits and drove in a run Tuesday night, setting up a 6-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that kept Chicago in first place for another day.
During his days in Pittsburgh before the trade, he never experienced anything like it.
"It shows how big this team is, having more fans here than the home team," said Gorzelanny, who tipped his cap to them. "It's definitely a different feeling coming from where I came from. It was nice. It was definitely something I'll remember for a while."
So will those Cubs fans who made up a loud majority of the crowd of 17,992.
The Cubs have inched ahead of St. Louis in the NL Central with a 14-5 spurt since the All-Star break, the best in the league. They got Gorzelanny (4-1) and reliever John Grabow from the Pirates in a five-player deal Thursday.
Gorzelanny dominated a struggling lineup during his 7 1/3 innings, giving up one run. He had an RBI single off Johnny Cueto (8-9), setting the Reds on course for their 14th loss in 15 games. Cincinnati has dropped eight straight -- all at home -- for its longest losing streak in four years.
"What a nice game Gorzelanny pitched," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "A great way to break in here. That was just what we needed."
Gorzelanny's hit knocked Cueto out of the game in the sixth. The 23-year-old Cueto has gone 0-5 in six starts with a 9.85 ERA, the deepest slump of his two-year career. He fired his glove down the dugout walkway as he left the field after giving up Gorzelanny's first hit of the season.
"It's just a tough situation," Cueto said. "We're not scoring many runs, and you feel like you need to be perfect. Maybe I'm trying to do too much. Physically, I felt good. It's bad luck for the whole team."
After drifting through the first half of the season, the Cubs have found direction behind a pitching staff that makes the most out of the minimum. The Cubs are 54-15 when they score at least three runs, the best record in the majors. They reached the mark in the sixth inning on Tuesday.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Koyie Hill hit a sinking liner that eluded diving center fielder Willy Taveras and rolled for a double, making it 3-0. With catcher Geovany Soto disabled by strained muscles in his left side, Hill has become the Cubs' everyday catcher. He has started the last 25 games, the longest such streak by a Cubs catcher since Damon Berryhill started 25 in a row in 1989.
The newcomer was the Cubs' star. Gorzelanny hadn't started for the Pirates since last September, and spent most of this season in the minors. The Cubs plan to keep him in the rotation for a few starts until Ted Lilly returns from a sore left shoulder later this month.
At least, that's the plan for now.
"Ted is going be back soon," Gorzelanny said. "I just want to do my job until then, and I can go to the bullpen and go from there."
Chicago has won six straight against Cincinnati, improving to 8-3 against the Reds this season. ... The Cubs put INF Andres Blanco on the DL with a strained left calf, opening a roster spot for Gorzelanny. ... Reds 3B Scott Rolen had a CT scan that was normal. He was beaned by a pitch Sunday and has missed two games. ... Taveras snapped an 0-for-18 slump with a single, one of his two hits off Gorzelanny.