video thumbnail

CHC@PIT: Polanco connects on his first MLB base hit

PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco made the scene, and the PNC Park scene could not have exceeded expectations, because they were so high. Yet the Pirates certainly would have hoped to come closer.

The Chicago Cubs crashed the party, downing the Bucs, 7-3. Maybe they considered this payback for the Pirates having partied last September in Wrigley Field, where they got to celebrate clinching a postseason berth.

Polanco went 1-for-5 in the two-hole and moved into right field, but as opening acts go, this was not a smash. Starter Francisco Liriano was forced out of a 2-2 game in the fourth inning by a strain of his left oblique, and the Cubs took advantage against a couple of long relievers.

Pirates Nation did its part, heeding the Polanco siren call by walking up to swell attendance to 31,567 -- after the season's first three Tuesday home games had averaged 17,865. Attendance typically rises once schools are out, but a large share of that jump was still attributable to Polanco.

"Nice reception from the crowd," noted manager Clint Hurdle.

From there, the evening turned dour rather quickly. Starling Marte got the wrong kind of double-double -- two more hits, then getting caught off base after each, although Hurdle saw mitigating circumstances. Nor was Polanco exempt from the misdeeds.

Four innings after his first Major League hit, a blistered opposite-field line drive off left-hander Travis Wood, set up another electric Andrew McCutchen moment, Polanco let a seventh-inning drive to right-center clang off his glove to set up Chicago's break-open two-run rally.

"I was running, and I couldn't catch it," said Polanco, who ran a long way to catch up to the ball, which appeared to bounced off the heel of his glove at the 375-foot mark.

The most unsettling about the occasion was the loss of another key member of the Bucs to injury. When one of his players goes down, Hurdle calls for the team attitude to be "next man up." At this rate, it might have to be "next van-full up."

Sunday, the Pirates lost Gerrit Cole to shoulder fatigue. Monday, second baseman Neil Walker needed an appendectomy. Then Liriano.

Liriano had settled down after allowing Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer in the first, but departed with a 2-1 count to the same batter leading off the fourth.

After Liriano's exit, the Cubs jumped Jeanmar Gomez to break a 2-2 tie, on Darwin Barney's RBI double, and the Bucs tied it in the bottom of the inning on Josh Harrison's sacrifice fly with the bases loaded.

That fourth would have been more productive for the Bucs had Marte, after leading off with a double, not fallen victim to a deft play by Wood, who stabbed Jordy Mercer's hard comebacker and whirled to second to catch Marte off the bag.

It was not Marte's last gaffe of the night. He led off the sixth with a hustle infield single, beating out a grounder into the shortstop hole. But he tried to steal second, and lost sight of the ball as Mercer hit an infield pop. Luis Valbuena, playing third, caught the pop and threw to first to double-up Marte, who had gotten a late break back to the bag.

"Unfortunately, there were a couple of weird plays," Hurdle said. "The comebacker ... [Wood] makes a heck of a play. I think he lost [Mercer's popup] in the dusk; I think he was looking for some help, I don't know if he got it."

Chicago took its third and permanent lead of the game in the sixth, when Valbuena snapped a 3-3 tie with a pinch-hit double that drove in Starlin Castro and Justin Ruggiano, who had reached base by being walked and hit, respectively, by Casey Sadler.

The Polanco Period could not have gotten off to a more dramatic -- or louder -- beginning. With two away in the third, he walloped a 1-0 fastball from Wood to left-center for his first Major League hit, setting up McCutchen's ninth homer on the very next pitch, tying it at 2.

"He's a good looking young player. He has a decent swing," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "I thought his swing direction, his path direction is a little Griffey-ish."

That's Ken Griffey Junior -- the guy with 630 homers in the books and on an upcoming (2016) Hall of Fame ballot.

MLB.com Comments