PITTSBURGH (AP) – Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli homered and the Pittsburgh Pirates took advantage of a sloppy inning by former closer Tony Watson to slip by the San Francisco Giants 6-5 on Saturday for their fifth straight victory.
Watson (1-2), an All-Star for Pittsburgh during his six-plus seasons with the club, loaded the bases in the eighth, and then gave the Pirates the lead when he hit former teammate Jordy Mercer to force in Josh Bell. Felipe Vazquez (2-0), who took over as Pirates closer when Watson faltered last season, got the final five outs after Pittsburgh blew a two-run lead earlier in the night.
Bell finished with two hits and his adept baserunning kept Pittsburgh’s eighth-inning rally alive. Bell was at third when pinch-hitter David Freese hit a chopper up the third-base line. Bell avoided Evan Longoria’s tag to make it back to third safely and Freese reached first without a throw. Watson then plunked Mercer to put the Pirates in front.
Former Pirates star Andrew McCutchen went 2 for 5 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Longoria and Alen Hanson homered in San Francisco’s sixth straight loss.
McCutchen received multiple standing ovations and two video tributes in his initial return to PNC Park on Friday night, with chants of “MVP” raining down from the upper deck before his first at-bat. The moment proved cathartic for both McCutchen and his former team, which blasted four home runs on its way to an 11-2 victory.
Things were a bit more muted 24 hours later, thanks in part to a 93-minute rain delay that left most of the crowd hiding under ponchos for protection from an intermittent downpour. Just like Friday, however, the crowd rose to its feet when McCutchen walked toward the batter’s box in the first. McCutchen took off his helmet as the applause washed over him. He tried to cut it a bit shorter than the one on Friday, but Cervelli wouldn’t let him. The catcher stood on the infield grass and refused to move toward his usual spot behind the plate to make sure his former teammate drank it all in.
Then the baseball began and the Pirates kept right on rolling even without the player most responsible for the franchise’s turnaround.
The team that finished 29th in the majors in home runs and 28th in runs last season is currently in the top 10 in both categories a quarter of the way into 2018. Polanco and Cervelli – who combined for just 16 homers in 2017 – now have 14 between the two of them. Polanco sent a shot to the seats in right-center just out of McCutchen’s reach in the third and Cervelli took advantage of Jeff Samardzija late.
Samardzija has struggled to find anything resembling rhythm this season and failed to go longer than five innings in each of his first four starters this season. He worked into the sixth this time around and stuck around at least one batter too many. Cervelli drove Samardzija’s 98th pitch over the fence in center to put Pittsburgh in front.
Samardzija allowed five runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings as his ERA rose to 6.94.
Pittsburgh starter Chad Kuhl recovered from a shaky start to pitch six innings, giving up three runs and six hits with four walks and six strikeouts.
Giants: OF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento. Manager Bruce Bochy said there’s a chance Pence, who has not played since April 18, could return at some point during a seven-game homestand that starts Monday against Cincinnati.
Pirates: RHP Joe Musgrove (strained right shoulder) pitched 5 2/3 no-hit innings in a rehab start at Triple-A Indianapolis. Musgrove threw 60 of his 79 pitches for strikes. … Pittsburgh is hopeful Jameson Taillon can make his next scheduled start. He exited after three innings on Friday due to a laceration on his right ring finger.
Giants: Derek Holland (1-4, 5.66 ERA) will look for his first road win in nearly a year on Sunday. Holland’s last road victory came on May 21, 2017, while pitching for the Chicago White Sox.
Pirates: Ivan Nova (2-2, 4.84 ERA) lasted just two innings in his previous start on Tuesday in Chicago. Nova has given up 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings.
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