Polanco gets game-winning homer, 4 more hits to lead Bucs
MIAMI — Gregory Polanco does not typically show much emotion. He does not flip his bat. He is not the most demonstrative player. But the Pirates' prized rookie emphatically clapped his hands a single time as he rounded first base in the 13th inning Friday, watching the flight of his first major league home run touch down several rows beyond the 392-foot sign in right-center at Marlins Park.
The laser shot was not just his first home run, it was his first game-winning hit — the two-run homer gave the Pirates a 8-6 lead that held as the final score. It was also the final of five hits in his first multi-hit game.
Four games deep into his major league career, Polanco had worked Marlins left-handed reliever Mike Dunn to a 2-2 count, fouling off some tough pitches, before turning on an 88 mph slider.
“Trying to fight, fight. He was a good left-handed pitcher. He was throwing three-quarters, so I was trying to stay to the opposite field,” Polanco said. “I was fighting, and he threw me a hanging slider, and I hit it. It was my first big league home run. I was excited. This is my best game ever.”
Polanco has arrived. He has arrived as a major leaguer who can impact games.
“It could have been a coming out party for him,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He stayed on pitches all night. He never gave up at-bats. Left-on-left a couple times. … He got a ball he just barreled up. Just very exciting to watch.”
The shot bailed out the Pirates' bullpen that had coughed up a four-run, ninth-inning lead to force extra innings. The home run helped move the Pirates (33-34) to within a game of .500 for the first time since April 18.
The Pirates' bullpen's inability to close out games returned in dramatic fashion Friday as Justin Wilson, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon combined to allow six walks and four runs in the ninth inning, as the Marlins overcame a four-run deficit.
It was the 12th blown save for the Pirates, tying for the National League high.
Wilson began the ninth in a non-save situation with a four-run lead but walked two batters and recorded just one out, as Hurdle elected to bring in closer Grilli in what became a save situation.
Grilli walked the first batter he faced, catcher Jeff Mathis. Ed Lucas followed with an RBI groundout, and Grilli then walked Rafael Furcal. With two outs, Reed Johnson laced a two-run single to cut the Pirates' lead to 6-5. Grilli intentionally walked Giancarlo Stanton to load the bases and was replaced by Melancon.
After getting ahead 0-2, Melancon walked Casey McGehee to force in Furcal and tie it 6-6.
The bullpen overshadowed a four-hit night from Starling Marte and Jeff Locke's career-high eight innings. While Locke's effort was lost, it was welcomed with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano on the disabled list.
Locke issued zero walks and struck out seven. Command issues had plagued Locke in the second half of last season and early this season at Triple-A, but Locke's command was better Friday, outside of a mistake location to Stanton, which resulted in a solo home run in the third.
“It's been similar to what we've seen last year with better command,” Hurdle said. “He's pitched in the big leagues. He's pitched on an All-Star team. I think we all kicked him to the curb really quick.”
Still the star of the night was Polanco. He continued to stay true to his opposite-field approach and slashed a 98 mph Nathan Eovaldi fastball into left field for a single in the first. Marte followed by squaring up a 95 mph fastball for a two-run home run.
In the fifth, Eovaldi tried a different tactic, testing Polanco and Marte with off-speed pitches. Polanco ripped an Eovaldi slider to right, and Marte followed with a hit off a breaking ball. Ike Davis ripped an Eovaldi slider into the right-field corner for a two-run double, giving Pirates to a 5-2 lead.