Yawn -- another day, another Pirates win. This time, the Bucs beat the Rockies even though Francisco Liriano made some costly mistakes. Today, Gregory Polanco had three hits and came up big defensively as the Pirates took the lead in the eighth inning and ultimately emerged with a 5-3 victory.
The Pirates grabbed an early run in the first. Andrew McCutchen hit a two-out single and stole second, then came home when Jung-Ho Kang blooped a single into shallow right. In the third, Kang came through again -- Polanco singled and stole second and McCutchen walked, and Kang doubled to right. The ball narrowly missed getting into the gap and scoring two runs, but the Bucs had to settle for one as McCutchen got stuck at third.
In the fifth, the Rockies tied it when Liriano walked Kyle Parker and then left a changeup up for Jose Reyes, who lined it off the foul pole in left. The Bucs retook the lead as Polanco doubled to lead off the bottom half of the inning, moved up on Jon Gray's wild pitch, and came home on Starling Marte's sac fly. But the Rockies tied the score again in the sixth as Carlos Gonzalez hit a solo homer on another bad pitch by Liriano, this time a slider. Liriano avoided further trouble later in the inning as Polanco gunned down Nick Hundley, who had hit a line drive that bounced off the upper part of the Clemente Wall.
By that point, it was 3-3, but I wasn't worried. How could anyone be? The Pirates have been finding ways to win these sorts of games for over a month, and their bullpen has been a big part of that. Even with the game tied in the late innings, it felt like the Rockies didn't stand a chance.
The Bucs failed to score after loading the bases in the sixth, and the Rockies were the next to mount a meaningful threat, as Jose Reyes singled, moved up on a sacrifice and stole third in the eighth. Again, though, Polanco bailed the Pirates out, catching Nolan Arenado's line drive in shallow right and gunning Reyes down at home. (Cervelli gets some credit on the play, too, for diving back to make the tag.)
In the bottom of the inning, the Bucs finally took the lead for good. Scott Oberg walked Francisco Cervelli and Pedro Alvarez, and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison grounded an opposite-field single to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. Then Polanco tacked on an extra run with a single to center. Mark Melancon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
Polanco's brilliant month continues -- with three hits tonight, he now has 37 in August, and his slugging percentage is up to. 400 for the season. He seems to be growing by leaps and bounds defensively as well, to the point where his arm, in particular, has become an obvious asset.
Six weeks or so ago, there was talk of the Pirates acquiring another right fielder, perhaps to share time with Polanco or perhaps to supplant him for the rest of the season. That seems unthinkable now. The Bucs have no shortage of players who've done great work this month -- including Kang, Cervelli, Alvarez (well, offensively, at least), Melancon, Gerrit Cole, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton, and that's just the short list -- but you could make the case that, other than McCutchen, no one has been more valuable than Polanco has. If he can keep this, or anything like it, up next season, he'll quickly become the star we all hoped he'd be when he debuted last season. It's been a bumpy road, but it might not end up being a particularly long one. This kid is good.