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Felipe throws gas as Pirates scratch out 5-4 win over Texas

MLB: Texas Rangers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Gregory Polanco slammed his first home run of the season and Felipe Vazquez touched 102 miles per hour as Pittsburgh held on for a 5-4 win over the visiting Texas Rangers.

With two starting pitchers, Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon, out with injuries, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle turned to Steven Brault to make his first start of the year. Brault breezed through his first three innings, allowing only a hit and a walk while striking out four.

The Pirates hit several balls hard off Rangers’ starter Adrian Sampson but didn’t get on the score board until two outs in the third when Adam Frazier’s high fly to right just managed to elude the glove of right fielder Hunter Pence and bounce away for a triple. Starling Marte then ripped a grounder up the middle for a single, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead.

Pence got made up for it in the very next half inning, following a walk to Joey Gallo with a two-run homer slammed into the bullpen in center field, putting Texas up 2-1.

It was wildness that cost Sampson in the bottom of the fourth, as the Pirates took the lead back for good. Josh Bell led off with a walk and with two outs Sampson hit Francisco Cervelli with a pitch. Another walk, on four pitches, to the number eight hitter Kevin Newman loaded the bases for the pitcher’s spot in the order. Although it was only the fourth inning, Brault had shown clear signs of tiring in the top of the inning, having thrown 28 pitches, and his night was through as Melky Cabrera came on to pinch-hit - roping the second pitch to the wall in right, driving in bell and Cervelli for a 3-2 Pirates lead.

The Pirates quickly added to that lead in the fifth when Sampson hit Starling Marte, then two pitches later Gregory Polanco launched his first home into the seats in center field, his third batted ball of the night over 100 mph.

After Brault, Michael Feliz had an easy fifth but was pulled for the left-hander Francisco Liriano in the sixth, who gave up a double to Gallo before issuing walks to Pence and Logan Forsythe, lading the bases with two outs , but Liriano escaped the inning without a score on an easy fly to Polanco in right.

The Rangers came right back in the seventh. Dovydas Neverauskus opened the inning on the mound for the Pirates, but after Delino DeShields Jr walked and Elvis Andrus singled with one out, Hurdle signaled to left-hander Tyler Lyons. Things looked up for the Pirates when Rangers’ left-handed slugger took a 2-2 curve for strike three, but Pence drove another 2-2 pitch over the head of left fielder Bryan Reynolds for a two-run double, pulling the Rangers to within a single run, down 5-4. Once more with a 2-2 count, lefty Rougned Odor took a called strike three to end the inning.

It was Kyle Crick’s turn in the eighth, but Pirates’ fans still could not relax. Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a walk but Forsythe hit into a double play. Just when one thought they might escape the inning, the next pitch hit Danny Santana and he stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position - but Crick received a huge gift when home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called out Shin-soo Choo on a fastball several inches outside.

One more inning, and on came The Nightmare, Felipe Vazquez. Pinch-hitter Nomar Mazara lined out to left. Vazquez then cranked it up to 101 but caught Andrus looking at a curve below the knees, another gifted strike three. Andrus pleaded his case to no avail. Then stepped in Joey Gallo, with 11 home runs this year after back-to-back 40 homer seasons, and who took Vazquez 467 feet deep in Texas last week. A curve for strike one. 102 for a called strike two. Then 101 at the letters for a swinging strike three, game over.

The Pirates have now won five of their last six, all at the hands of Texas and Oakland, who were in Pittsburgh over the last weekend. The victory puts the Pirates’ record at 17-15, 2.0 games behind the front running Cardinals in the National League Central.

The two game series will conclude Wednesday afternoon as 12:35 p.m. Eastern, with the Rangers’ Shelby Miller (1-2, 7.99) scheduled to face the Pirates’ Nick Kingham (1-0, 6.39), making his first start of the season.