Josh Bell’s three-run walk-off home run gave the Pirates a big 5-2 win over the Cardinals, opening the unofficial second half of the season with an electrifying victory on a Friday night that, most of the way, seemed on the path to a much more frustrating outcome.
In a 2-2 tie, Adam Frazier led off the bottom of the ninth with a little bloop to the left-field corner. He hustled into second unwisely, as a strong throw straight to the base or a more crisp relay would have gotten him, but in any event, he was in scoring position right away. Josh Harrison flied out to shallow right, and Seung-Hwan Oh intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen, putting runners on first and second for Bell.
Bell opened the at-bat swinging at a fastball at his eyes. He took the next two for a 1-2 count, then popped a 93 MPH fastball the other way, into the nook in the left-field corner to send the fans — disgruntled most of the night — home happy.
Bell’s homer took a lot of heat off of Gregory Polanco, who was the goat for getting back-picked off of third base by Yadier Molina, killing a fourth-inning rally.
Polanco led off the fourth, crushing a liner just foul — upheld upon review — into the right-field seats. He then smashed one that bounced oddly off the center-field wall, but only pulled in with a double when he probably should have been at third. He moved to third (instead of possibly scoring) on a Francisco Cervelli groundout, then Jordy Mercer walked. On ball four, Molina fired to Jedd Gyorko at third, catching a sleeping Polanco nonchalantly heading back to the base. That drew the ire of the home crowd, loudly. Gerrit Cole’s subsequent jog on his ground ball, despite that being protocol for Pirates pitchers for years, rubbed salt in the wound of the pitchfork crew.
Cole, by the way, was pretty darn good, holding St. Louis to four hits in six innings, striking out four and walking none. Two of those hits came in the first, though, including a two-run homer by Gyorko.
The Pirates held the Cardinals scoreless after that. Tony Watson pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. Things were a little more dicey for Juan Nicasio — a leadoff single, then two on with one out — before he got out of it. Then Felipe Rivero retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth in about two minutes.
The Pirates left 10 on base, which added to the frustration, but it was the outs on the bases that lingered as missed opportunities — Polanco’s gaffe in the fourth, then a Frazier double play in the sixth.
Mercer and pinch hitter Jose Osuna both singled to open the sixth, with the score tied at 2. Frazier unsuccessfully tried to bunt twice before slapping a grounder right at Gyorko, who stepped on third and threw to second for a rally-killing double play. Frazier took second, but the umpires said time had been called, which drew Clint Hurdle out of the dugout for an argument and an ejection.
The Pirates tied it on single runs in the third and fifth. In the third, Cole reached on an infield hit and made his way over to third, scoring on a single Bell smoked down the first-base line.
Mike Matheny was dead set on getting starter Mike Leake through the fifth. Leake issued three straight two-out walks, then Polanco, an inning after getting all of western Pennsylvania angry at him, singled to right to score McCutchen. Francisco Cervelli left the bases loaded with a strikeout, adding to the theme of missed opportunities that was blasted a few innings later along with the Oh fastball Bell crushed.
The Pirates pulled a half-game behind the Cardinals. With Milwaukee’s win, the Pirates remain seven games back of them.
If the Pirates are to do anything, they’ll need a good homestand against St. Louis and Milwaukee. That’s off to a good start, at the least.