Pirates’ team effort nets home victory against Rangers
The text message Steven Brault received from his dad Tuesday night told much of the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 5-4 victory against the Texas Rangers.
“Bummer you got taken out, but good for Melky.”
The victory was the Pirates’ fifth in six games and third in a row. But beyond those numbers that eventually will disappear in a 162-game season, the most meaningful aspect of the game was the way everyone contributed.
With starting pitchers Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer out with injuries, the Pirates reached a critical point in their season Tuesday night. The team’s strongest personnel grouping was compromised, and no one knew for sure if help was on the way.
Into the void stepped Brault, six relief pitchers and Gregory Polanco to team up and defeat the Rangers before a crowd of 13,032 at PNC Park.
The last of the relievers, closer Felipe Vazquez, pitched the ninth. He struck out Joey Gallo to end the game, recording his 10th save while getting “a little revenge.” Gallo homered against him last week in Texas.
“You have to forget about that and move on,” Vazquez said.
“The guy at the end was very special tonight,” manager Clint Hurdle. “You’re not going to see that stuff too often.”
Vazquez’s inning was the only clean one – no baserunners – but the Rangers never led after Cabrera’s bases-loaded, pinch-hit double in the fourth gave the Pirates (17-15) two runs, a 3-2 lead and extended his hitting streaking to 11 games.
Brault pitched the first four innings in his first start in more than a year, and he wasn’t complaining when Hurdle let Cabrera bat for him.
“I was getting a little taxed there at the end. I think Melky (hitting .344) is a little bit of a better hitter than I am,” said Brault, an outfielder when he attended Regis University in Denver. “So it was a good decision.
“I would have liked to go five, but I don’t think it will be a bad thing getting ready for the next start (Sunday in St. Louis) and getting my body ready again after doing that for the first time in a while.
“And we won, so it was cool.”
Hurdle said, “It was the outing we needed. It was the distance we needed. Very proud of him.”
Brault allowed only two hits, but one was a 429-foot shot that left Hunter Pence’s bat in the fourth at 107.4 mph.
“My legs weren’t quite as powerful so I wasn’t able to get the same drive on my fastball that I like to get,” Brault said. “So, Hunter Pence gets a fastball down the middle and hits it to the moon.”
Speaking of significant homers, none meant more than Polanco’s two-run shot in the fifth inning. It was his first in 11 games and 43 at-bats since returning from shoulder surgery.
“I knew it was going to be slow. (The shoulder) is still weak. It’s getting there,” said Polanco, who’s hitting .273, anyway.
Actually, the home run carried Polanco’s third-highest exit velocity of the night. He lined out at 110.3 mph and singled at 102.5 before the homer (101.2).
“Crisp swings, fresh, strong,” Hurdle said.
Polanco said he has adjusted his technique in the batter’s box, using more of his hips to generate power while his shoulder gets stronger. He credited first-year hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz for suggesting the change.
“They are very smart. They know about hitting,” he said.
“Right before the game, I went to the cage. Wow, I really felt it right away. I wasn’t using my lower half.”
When the ball went into the first row of the bleachers, Polanco said it was a “great feeling.”
“I was running the bases so hard. I missed that feeling.”
With so many injuries to pitchers and hitters – there have been 17 Pirates on the injured list this season – Polanco said he doesn’t feel any added pressure to perform.
“But I obviously know I have to do it.”
Brault’s in the same position, carrying a healthy arm on a staff that needs propped up at the moment.
“We’re always going to be a team that is going to be ready for the next guy,” he said. “Whoever that is at the time. And right now it’s me.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .