Notes from tonight's 5-2 victory over the New York Mets:
Power, stealth and unlikely run preventers
The Pirates played one of their most complete games of the year tonight. Offensively, the Bucs used both power and stealth to hang five runs on the Mets. The power was supplied by Gregory Polanco, who launched a three-run home run in the fifth. The stealth came via another modified delayed steal attempt by the Bucs that worked for the first time this season, and led to a go-ahead run in the fourth. Defensively, the Pirates held the Mets in check thanks in large part to two players that were not necessarily on the radar as major contributors in April. Vance Worley provided another fine start this evening and Josh Harrison played a very fine left field. Overall, it was one of the more encouraging and interesting evenings of the season.
Gregory Polanco hits his first PNC Park home run
In the top of the fifth, Polanco deposited a 3-2 pitch from Diasuke Matsuzaka three-quarters of the way up into seats sitting above the Clemente Wall. Polanco's three-run blast put the Bucs comfortably ahead, 5-1.
"I was trying to make contact with the ball and stay within my approach," Polanco said of the home run.
Polanco had a wide grin as he looked up at the crowd rounding the bases.
"I love that," Polanco said of the crowd's reaction. "So, I just say thank you to all them. I love them."
If you felt some deja vu after Polanco's home run, here's why:
Gregory Polanco vs. Darryl Strawberry (h/t @DavidManel) http://t.co/pkDMVcOtUw— Forbes to Federal (@ForbesToFederal) June 27, 2014
Shades of 2013
A key component of the Pirates 2013 success was contributions received from starting pitchers considered unlikely to contribute quality innings. So far, the 2014 Bucs are following at least that part of last year's script.
With his strong outing tonight (seven innings, one run), Vance Worley has lowered the combined ERA of the three replacement starters - Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke and Worley - to 3.87 in 100 innings pitched. Locke and Worley have now combined for 66.1 innings pitched and a 2.44 ERA.
"Solid body of work tonight," Hurley said of Worley's start. "He'll be the first one to tell you, he wasn't as sharp as he has been previously. But what he was able to do was go to pitches that were working and stay in locations that he needed to stay in."
Josh Harrison continues to do ... everything
In the top of the second, the Mets had runners on first and second with two outs. Ruben Tejeda singled in the hole between Jordy Mercer and Pedro Alvarez. Bobby Abreu was waved home and was about five feet past third base when the ball reached Josh Harrison in mid-left field. With a throw that was more accurate then powerful, Harrison threw a strike to Russell Martin that arrived well before Abreu, recording the out and extracting the Bucs from the inning.
"Excellent throw early in the game," Hurdle said. "He's made a throw from left now, he's made throw from right nailed a runner at home. He's worked hard on all aspects of his defense. It's been fun watching him have some fun."
Another delayed steal, and this time it worked!
The Pirates have attempted numerous modified delayed steals this season. The most typical one has involved the runner on first breaking for second on a pop-up behind the plate. When the catcher throws to second, the runner on third breaks home. None of the attempts have worked previously this season.
Tonight, the Bucs added a new wrinkle to their delayed-stealing repertoire and it worked. With two outs in the fourth and the scored tied 1-1, Andrew McCutchen was on third and Ike Davis on first. Davis seemingly inexplicably took off for second while Daisuke Matsuzaka stood on the rubber. Matsuzaka stepped off and threw to first, catching Davis in a rundown. As soon as the Mets first baseman threw to second, McCutchen broke for home and scored easily as the Mets conceded the run and eventually retired Davis.
Afterwards, Hurdle said that this new package of baserunning plays have emerged from the opportunities presented by defensive shifts.
"We have number of things we can do in different situations," Hurdle said. "You know the shifts sometimes afford you a chance here and there."
Hurdle also gave credit to first base coach Rick Sofield.
"Rick Sofield has done a fantastic job talking with these guys, not only creating situations to make them aware of, but actually implementing them. Really all the credit goes to him."