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Nova and Polanco lead Pirates over Astros 7-1

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ivan Nova dominated the Houston Astros and Gregory Polanco homered twice as the Pittsburgh Pirates ended their four-game losing streak with an emphatic 7-1 win. Nova poured 69 of his 98 pitches into the strike zone, using an effective sinker to produce 16 ground-ball outs in the complete-game win, his third as a Pirate against no losses.

Nova dispatched the tough top of the Astros order on nine pitches in the first inning. In the next half inning, the recently moribund Pirates offense awoke and rewarded him with an early four-run lead. Clint Hurdle inserted new blood into the top of the Pirates' batting order, and the insertion paid immediate dividends. Adam Frazier, subbing for Josh Harrison at second base, singled, and Matt Joyce, subbing for Starling Marte in the outfield, doubled to left center for the first Pirates run. Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco followed with a double and single, also to left center, extending the lead to 3-0. The fifth and sixth Pirates batters, David Freese and Josh Bell, followed with singles of their own, scoring Polanco before Bell was thrown out at second trying to stretch his single to a double for the first out of the inning by Astros pitcher Joe Musgrove, who escaped without further damage.

Fortified by the comfortable lead, Nova methodically devoured the Astros lineup. He gave up three harmless hits to left fielder Marwin Gonzalez in the second, fifth, and seventh innings and one to catcher Jason Castro in the second, but his control of the strike zone and ability to induce ground balls and record strikeouts when needed ensured that they remained harmless. Polanco added to the scoring with two majestic solo home runs, an opposite-field bomb to left in the third off Musgrove and another to center in the fifth, the culmination of a long, doggedly patient at-bat against lefty reliever Tony Sipp. Joyce scored the Pirates seventh run in the seventh on a throwing error by Alex Bregman, who had moved to shortstop from third base that inning.

Rooting for a Maddux from Nova in the top of the ninth, the crowd of 28,000+ experienced mild disappointment when Bregman and Jose Altuve led off with back-to-back doubles. But with the bullpen warming and Hurdle poised on the top step, Nova recorded a strikeout, ground out, and another strikeout, his sixth, to complete the game and send everyone home happy. There has been a dearth of that sort of happiness on this homestand; Gerrit Cole will have the opportunity to bestow more in the series finale tomorrow afternoon.