C Francisco Cervelli (John Heller/Post-Gazette)
Gregory Polanco and Carlos Gonzalez, the Pirates and Colorado Rockies right fielders, were sensational Friday night. The Pirates won, 5-3, but Polanco and Gonzalez both played pivotal roles in keeping the series opener close.
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Polanco continued his second-half surge with a 3 for 5 night. He singled twice, got a hustle double — in just ahead of Gonzalez’s bull’s-eye throw — scored twice, stole a base and drove in an insurance run.
Oh, and got two outfield assists — his eighth and ninth this season. The first came after a veteran read on Nick Hundley’s hard line drive off the Clemente Wall. Polanco turned and gunned the ball in so quickly Jordy Mercer had time to throw back to first to catch Hundley retreating.
We’ll get to Polanco’s second throw later.
To Gonzalez …
His 31st homer of the year was a moonshot to center, and it tied the game 3-3 in the sixth. Francisco Liriano laughed afterward and said, yeah, that’s not a guy you want to leave a slider up in the zone against.
In the sixth, after Polanco nailed Hundley, Polanco came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, ready to break it back open. He got ahold of a fastball, ripping it to right, but Gonzalez made a diving catch to save extra bases, and extra runs.
The Pirates were in trouble in the eighth. Jose Reyes singled, took second on a sacrifice and stole third without a throw. He was 90 feet away with one out. Nolan Arenado lunged and got a ball in the air to right. Polanco came in to catch it, saw Reyes on the move and threw a perfect strike just out front of the plate. Francisco Cervelli caught the delivery and dived back toward the plate to nab Reyes, a guy who’s not used to getting thrown out anywhere, much less at the plate.
In the home half of the inning, Josh Harrison came off the bench to put the Pirates ahead with a pinch-hit single through the open right side, and Polanco followed with a full-count single to center. Good, solid swing. Great contact for the fourth time in the game.
All four balls Polanco put in play Friday night were fastballs. We’ve always known him to be an excellent fastball hitter. But he’s gotten much, much better at working to get into fastball counts. That’s a critical improvement. In five at-bats against the Rockies, he saw 25 pitches.
That’s the sort of number that helps explain why he’s batted .326 since taking over as leadoff man. He knows when to jump at the first pitch, and he knows how to waste a few.
The outfield assists don’t hurt, either. Earlier in his career, and earlier in this season, we saw Polanco look lost in right field, particularly at PNC Park — his arm action was too long, and his routes were messy. Now, he looks right at home.
INDIANAPOLIS (78-56) defeated Louisville, 8-1. RHP Chris Volstad (11-6, 3.26) allowed 1 run on 5 hits and struck out 5 in 7 innings for the win. He also raised his average to .333 as he went 2 for 4 with 2 doubles and 4 RBIs. Josh Bell (.352) was 3 for 5 with a run scored and one driven in, while C Elias Diaz (.274) went 3 for 5 with a homer and 2 RBIs.
ALTOONA (70-62) defeated Trenton, 3-2. RHP Chad Kuhl (11-4, 2.52) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in 6 innings to get the win. CF Andy Vasquez (.247) hit a 2-run homer and C Jacob Stallings (.270) went 2 for 3 and drove in the other run.
BRADENTON (67-62) game against Fort Myers ended late. Starter Tyler Eppler gave up an unearned run on 6 hits and struck out 4 in 7 innings and left with a 2-1 lead. LF Justin Maffei was 2 for 4 with 1 RBI and SS Chris Diaz (.248) finished 2 for 2 with 1 RBI and a run scored. 2B Trace Tam Sing (.286) was 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (79-50) defeated Augusta, 5-1. RHP Alex McRae (7-9, 4.81) gave up only 1 run on 5 hits and struck out 4 in 6 innings to take the win. SS Kevin Newman (.271) tripled and drove in 2 and C Francisco Diaz (.342) was 2 for 3 with 1 RBI.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (35-31) lost to Mahoning Valley, 6-1. RHP Dario Agrazal (5-5, 2.83) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in 5 innings to take the loss. LF Ty Moore (.275), DH Daniel Arribas (.270), 2B Logan Ratledge (.138), SS Erik Forgoine (.230) and PH David Andriese (.220) had the team’s 5 hits.
BRISTOL (28-32) scored 4 runs in the eighth to defeat Pulaski, 10-9. RHP Mike Wallace (1-1, 8.35) picked up his first professional win with two strikeouts in a scoreless inning of relief. 3B Raul Siri (.417) was 3 for 5 with a run scored and 1 RBI, and DH Jordan George (.347) went 4 for 4 with 2 doubles, 2 runs scored and 1 RBI. RF Nick Buckner (.262) was 2 for 5 with a double, a triple, 2 runs scored and 4 RBIs.
GCL PIRATES (28-30) ended their 11-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory over GCL Yankees1. RHP Chris Plitt (4-1, 2.88) allowed 1 run on 5 hits in 4 innings of relief for the win. 3B Sam Kennelly (.263) keyed a 4-run eighth inning rally with a 3-run homer.
LHP Francisco Liriano (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)
Game: Pirates (77-49) vs. Rockies (51-74)
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Site: PNC Park
TV, radio: ROOT Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: 77 and partly cloudy
1. Jose Reyes SS
2. DJ LeMahieu 2B
3. Nolan Arenado 3B
4. Carlos Gonzalez RF
5. Nick Hundley C
6. Matt McBride 1B
7. Kyle Parker LF
8. Brandon Barnes CF
9. Jon Gray RHP
1. Gregory Polanco RF
2. Starling Marte LF
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Jung Ho Kang 3B
5. Neil Walker 2B
6. Francisco Cervelli C
7. Pedro Alvarez 1B
8. Jordy Mercer SS
9. Francisco Liriano LHP
MIAMI -- After playing four games against a Marlins team that is now 51-77, the Pirates return home to play the Rockies, who are 51-74.
Friday: LHP Francisco Liriano (9-6, 3.23) for the Pirates; RHP Jon Gray (0-0, 5.94) for the Rockies.
Saturday: LHP J.A. Happ (2-1, 2.08) for the Pirates; LHP Chris Rusin (4-6, 4.97) for the Rockies.
Sunday: RHP Charlie Morton (8-5, 4.20) for the Pirates; LHP Jorge De La Rosa (7-6, 4.61) for the Rockies.
This is a Rockies team that no longer has Troy Tulowitzki and has lost 12 of 16.
After that, 26 of the final 33 games come against NL Central opponents, including 17 in a row starting Sept. 1. The first nine of those come on the road, against the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds.
Pirates’ record against division opponents:
Cubs: 5-7 (3-3 home, 2-4 away)
Reds: 4-9 (2-4 home, 2-5 away)
Brewers: 6-6 (4-2 home, 2-4 away)
Cardinals: 6-7 (5-2 home, 1-5 away)
Total: 21-29 (14-11 home, 7-18 away)
So that nine-game road trip could be large.
The Pirates, as of this writing with the Cardinals currently playing the Diamondbacks, are four games back of first place and four games ahead of the Cubs in the wild-card standings, meaning they would host the one-game playoff at PNC Park. They play 13 games against those two teams in the next month, six against the Cardinals and seven against the Cubs.
“It’s fun, man,” Josh Harrison said. “It’s no secret what the Cubs are doing, what the Cardinals are doing, what we’re doing. But we do a good job of not worrying about that.”
INDIANAPOLIS (77-56) lost to Louisville, 2-1. LHP Bobby LaFromboise (1-2, 3.00) gave up a 2-run homer in his only inning of relief to take the loss. C Tony Sanchez (.233) doubled for the team’s only extra-base hit, while Corey Hart (.158) had an RBI pinch-hit single in the ninth.
ALTOONA (69-62) lost to Trenton, 6-4. RHP Jason Creasy (10-8, 4.60) gave up 5 runs – 4 earned – on 9 hits in 3 1/3 innings to take the loss. Mel Rojas Jr. (.252) went 2 for 3 with a triple and run scored, while CF Andy Vasquez (.245) hit his second homer of the season and drove in two.
BRADENTON (67-62) lost to Fort Myers, 3-2. RHP Frank Duncan (8-10, 4.40) was touched up for 3 runs – 1 earned – on 9 hits in 6 innings to get the loss. 1B Jordan Steranka (.242) went 2 for 4 and 3B Wyatt Mathisen (.267) was 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored. C Reese McGuire (.261) and SS Chris Diaz (.243) drove in the Marauders 2 runs in the ninth.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (78-50) lost to Augusta, 2-1. RHP Jake Burnette (4-4, 4.66) gave up 1 run and walked 4 batters in 1 inning of relief to take the loss. Starter Yeudy Garcia (2.11) gave up 1 run on 6 hits and struck out 10 in 5 2/3 innings. C Tyler Gushue (.232) doubled and scored a run and LF Elvis Escobar (.301) singled for the team’s only 2 hits.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (35-30) defeated Mahoning Valley, 7-2. RHP Jonathan Brubaker (5-4, 2.93) gave up 2 hits and struck out 3 in 6 shutout innings. 2B Mitchell Tolman (.275) was 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, 1 RBI and a run scored. CF Casey Hughston (.212) was 2 for 3 with 2 RBI and a run scored.
BRISTOL (27-32) lost to Pulaski, 4-2. RHP Marek Minarik (2-5, 5.98) gave up 3 runs – 1 earned – on 1 hit and 2 walks in 1 2/3 innings of relief to take the loss. CF Sandy Santos (.262) and SS Bealyn Chourio (.250) each hit solo homers.
GCL PIRATES (27-30) lost their 11th consecutive game and were shut out for the second consecutive game, 5-0, to GCL Phillies. RHP Yunior Montero (3-4, 4.66) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits, including a home run, in 4 innings to take the loss. SS Adrian Valerio (.222) was 2 for 4.