The detail with which we'll begin this recap isn't the most significant aspect of Friday's game, but perhaps the most revealing: Cole Hamels walked Sean Rodriguez twice in the same inning. All three members of the Bucs' starting outfield also homered in other innings in the game, but it was the Pirates' big fifth inning that was most crucial. That inning also featured a three-run homer by Jung Ho Kang, and the Bucs whipped Hamels and the Rangers, 9-1.
Pirates starter Jon Niese pitched six fine innings, striking out two and walking one while allowing the Rangers' lone run. It was the fourth consecutive quality start for Niese, who has lowered his ERA a run and a half to 4.42 since a poor outing against the Cubs early this month.
The Bucs' first run came in the second, when Hamels threw a 91-MPH fastball down the middle to Starling Marte, who blasted a solo homer to center. It wasn't until the fifth, though, that Hamels came apart completely. Rodriguez led off with a four-pitch walk, and then Jordy Mercer reached via what turned out to be a very costly error by first baseman Mitch Moreland. Andrew McCutchen hit a lazy fly ball to right and then clapped his hands; it was unclear whether he clapped because he made weak contact, or because he knew the ball would fall in, but fall it did, and the Bucs scored a run.
Next up -- and still with no outs -- was David Freese, who squirted a grounder past shortstop to put the Pirates up 3-0. Finally, up came Kang, who hit an outside fastball to the opposite field to clear the bases and signal the beginning of a rout.
The inning proceeded for awhile after that, and the Pirates eventually loaded the bases again and drove Hamels out of the game. They left with the bases juiced (and Rodriguez, who'd walked again, on first), but it hardly mattered.
The Bucs tacked on another run in the sixth on a homer by McCutchen, his ninth of the season and first in two weeks. Adrian Beltre homered for the Rangers' only run in the bottom of the inning, and Gregory Polanco continued his remarkable season by hitting his seventh homer of the year off funky lefty Alex Claudio in the ninth. Also in the late innings, the Bucs got another solid performance from newcomer Wilfredo Boscan, who pitched two scoreless frames. By that point, though, the game had been decided, with the lengthy fifth inning proving to be the difference. The win was the Pirates' fifth in a row, and they're now 28-19.
By the way, Pirates coaches organized a tribute to former colleague -- and now Rangers manager -- Jeff Banister after the National Anthem, doing a synchronized hand gesture that was apparently an impression of Banister when he directed traffic in Spring Training drills with the Bucs. It was a nice gesture to a former member of the Pirates organization, and I'm sure Clint Hurdle and company wish Banister nothing but the best of luck. Just not this weekend.