Pirates bats pop in series-clinching road win over Phillies
PHILADELPHIA — On opening day, Josh Bell was batting seventh. Andrew McCutchen later spent a month in the No. 6 spot. Gregory Polanco was dropped to there two weeks ago.
On Thursday, the trio played the part of a potent middle of the lineup.
Bell, McCutchen and Polanco combined to go 9 for 13 with two home runs, three doubles, all of the Pirates' runs and five of their RBIs in a 6-3 win against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"As a pitcher, you go through lineups, and to see those guys put up the numbers that they are putting up or starting to put up, that's scary," said Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl, who pitched a career-high seven innings.
It was the third consecutive victory for the Pirates (40-46), who won a four-game series for the first time in six attempts this season.
McCutchen had two doubles, giving him six extra-base hits in five games this month, quite an encore from his NL Player of the Month honor for June. Each time he doubled Thursday, cleanup hitter Bell drove him in.
During the fourth inning, it was a homer to left, Bell's 16th of the season. In the eighth, just after the Phillies brought in two runs to tie the score 3-3, McCutchen scored on a Bell double.
Two batters later, the lead was extended to two when Polanco delivered his fourth hit of the night, a single to left. Polanco scored when Elias Diaz followed with a double to left.
Polanco, who had his first four-hit game since April 8, extended his hitting streak to six games. He hit his seventh home run — a line-drive to right with a game-high exit velocity of 111 mph — two batters after Bell's home run.
"I was seeing it good today," said Polanco, who is hitting .350 in July after a .183 June. "I just am trusting the process and having more trust in what I'm doing and trusting and believing in what I'm doing in my cage work and just trying to time the pitcher. Just trying to do less. More hands, less body."
The offense was complemented by Kuhl, who grew up in nearby Delaware, as well as flashy defense by Jose Osuna. He became the first Pirates outfielder to record three assists in a game in 26 years. He was the first to do so on consecutive, same-inning plays in 36 years.
Osuna easily threw out Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera trying to stretch singles into doubles three pitches apart in the second inning.
In the seventh, Osuna again threw out Altherr, who again was trying for a double — but not before he drove in two runs to tie the score 3-3.
" 'Why are you still running?' " Polanco said with a smile. "It's tough running on (Osuna). I know he's got a cannon. People don't know. Now they know."
The previous time a Pirates outfielder had three assists was Cecil Espy on Aug. 12, 1991. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the most recent occurrence of a Pirates outfielder recording an assist on consecutive plays within one inning was Gary Alexander on Sept. 7, 1981.
The assists, along with three double plays turned and a leaping Max Moroff catch of a Herrera line-drive to end the seventh, helped Kuhl (3-6) face just one more than the minimum through six. That one runner, however, scored on a bizarre play.
After walking to lead off the inning, Andrew Knapp was on first when Diaz threw to the bag in an attempt to pick him off.
Andres Blanco was swinging on the play, and he lost the grip of his bat on a wet night in which the start of the game was delayed 47 minutes by rain and showers fell intermittently throughout.
Herrera's bat flying into the stands over the Phillies dugout grabbed the attention of first baseman Bell, who never saw Diaz's throw.
The toss went into the right-field corner, and Knapp came all the way around to score.
"I think a lot of the stadium was looking at the bat," Bell said. "Tough situation. I was just happy to capitalize and make up for it."
Pitching for the third consecutive day, Juan Nicasio worked a perfect ninth for his first save. In the series, the bullpen threw 11 scoreless innings, allowing just five hits with 13 strikeouts.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.