Polanco's timely hit, Volquez's pitching propel Pirates to victory
The numbers were on the Miami Marlins' side. So was baseball's conventional wisdom.
In the fourth inning Thursday, the Pirates had just scored the game's first run and had two runners on base. Marlins left-hander Brian Flynn pitched around Jayson Nix in order to face Gregory Polanco.
Nix is a seven-year veteran, Polanco is a rookie. Nix is a right-handed batter, Polanco is a lefty. Nix hits .230 with runners in scoring position, Polanco owned just one hit in eight at-bats (.125) with the bases loaded.
“I wasn't surprised,” Polanco said. “I know lefty on lefty is hard to hit.”
A no-brainer? Think again.
Polanco shot a two-run single into left field, and the Pirates were on their way to what became a 7-2 victory.
Polanco's clutch hit, along with big efforts by Jordy Mercer (3 for 4) and Starling Marte (two doubles), backed a brilliant performance by pitcher Edinson Volquez.
The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings and allowed only one hit for his first win since July 10. Volquez (9-7) walked three and struck out seven, matching his season high.
“I think tonight was one of my best nights with my fastball control,” Volquez said. “I tried to stay ahead in the count, stay aggressive.”
Volquez walked the game's first batter, then retired 10 in a row until Jordany Valdespin walked with one out in the fourth. Volquez set down the final seven batters he faced, then left after throwing 106 pitches.
Polanco added a two-run double in the eighth. In the fifth, Polanco tortured the Marlins with a throw that evoked memories of Roberto Clemente and Dave Parker.
With one out and two runners on, Polanco leaned over the short barrier in foul territory to catch caught Adeiny Hechavarria's fly ball. Jarrod Saltalamacchia tagged and took off for third.
“I didn't know he was going to run,” Polanco said. “I got rid of it right away.”
Saltalamacchia is a catcher, not a sprinter. But Polanco still had to shift his momentum back toward the field, then make a dazzling throw that got to Nix on one bounce for the double play.
“I'm not familiar with Polanco at all, really,” said Nix, who signed with the Pirates on Sunday. “But, just looking at the guy, you can tell he's a tremendous athlete. It was a great throw.”
There was a frightening moment in the seventh inning when Marlins reliever Dan Jennings was struck in the side of the head by Mercer's line drive.
The ball caromed high in the air and was caught by shortstop Hechavarria. Jennings slumped to the mound as medical staff ran out to him.
“All I'm thinking is, ‘Get up,'” Mercer said. “I had the best seat in the house, and it wasn't pretty. I'll keep him in my prayers. I hope he's OK.”
Mercer looked on as Jennings was examined, then patted him on the back when a motorized cart arrived. Jennings raised his right arm to recognize the crowd, which gave him an ovation as he left the field to be taken to a nearby hospital.
“He didn't lose consciousness,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “He was responding to questions. His eyes were open the whole time. He was able to understand and answer.”
Flynn (0-1), making his first start of the season and just the fifth of his career, cruised through the first three innings.
Mercer and Russell Martin each singled with one out in the first, but Gaby Sanchez grounded into a double play. The Pirates went three-up, three-down in the second and third.
Mercer led off the fourth with a double that scooted down the third base line and caromed into shallow left field. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Martin's single, which took a bad hop over Hechavarria's glove.
Marte's ground-rule double put runners on second and third. Flynn pitched carefully to Nix, who walked on four pitches. Polanco singled on a 2-2 slider to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
“He stayed on a ball out over the plate and covered it,” manager Clint Hurdle said.