In the third inning, it felt like the Pirates were on the verge of breaking this game open a little bit. The score was tied at one, but the Mets had almost no luck against Vance Worley besides Lucas Duda’s solo homer, while the Pirates put at least one runner on base in every inning against Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was obviously struggling with his control. With Pedro Alvarez up, Ike Davis on first, and Andrew McCutchen on third, the Pirates decided to play for one run instead of the big hit. They had Davis take a big lead off of first, and when he drew a throw from Matsuzaka, he broke for second. As soon as Dude made the throw to second, McCutchen broke for home, and scored easily before Davis was tagged out. It honestly looked like a designed play and if we’re being honest about it, it was executed pretty flawlessly by Davis and McCutchen. And I found myself going, “Well, yeah, one run is nice, but a three-run homer would’ve been nicer.”
One inning later, Gregory Polanco stepped up with Vance Worley and Jordy Mercer on base. He took ball one, then took two questionable pitches for strikes. He battled back, though, fouling off two pitches and working the count full. Finally, Matsuzaka hung a 3-2 slider and Polanco absolutely hammered it halfway up the right field grandstand over the Clemente Wall in right field for the three-run homer I’d been looking for. It was a fantastic at-bat for a kid that’s been a big leaguer for about two weeks now, and the result was the turning point in the game for the Pirates. It was especially impressive given that so many of Polanco’s hits have been singles (this isn’t a criticism, of course, because many of them are nice little inside-out swings on outside pitches to single through the right side of the infield, which he did the very next time up) to this point in his career. He was ready to pounce on a mistake pitch from Matsuzaka, though, and he absolutely obliterated the ball. His swing is so easy that it’s impossible not to see him crush a ball like that and not dream on it a little bit.
That homer was plenty because Vance Worley was excellent for his third straight start. I’m still a little hesitant to go all-in on the Worley bandwagon at this point because of his low strikeout rate, but if you go to his chart at Brooks Baseball you can see how he did a really nice job blending his fastball, two-seamer, and slider together tonight with just enough of a curveball to keep hitters off balance. I think he’s eventually going to run into trouble if he can’t miss more bats, but his location seemed excellent tonight and he did a better job of getting groundballs than he did in his first two starts, so I don’t see why he can’t continue being a serviceable fifth starter for the Pirates, even if he’s obviously not going to continue along with a 1.74 ERA.
The last thing I’d like to note is that Jason Grilli’s wasted roster spot may come back to bite the Pirates in this series. With a 5-1 lead in the seventh, Tony Watson came in to pitch and gave up a run (partially thanks to a really bad Josh Harrison route in left field that resulted in a double), which created a save situation for Mark Melancon to pitch in the ninth. I don’t know why Watson came on in that spot instead of, say, Jared Hughes or Jeanmar Gomez, but obviously that was a spot they couldn’t pitch Grilli in and they probably didn’t want to use Justin Wilson there, either, since it wasn’t a close game and he was forced to pitch yesterday in a game he shouldn’t have had to throw in. Whatever the reasoning, the Pirates used Watson and Melancon to hold down what was an easy win, and now they run the risk of maybe not having one or the other available in a big spot on Saturday or Sunday. It’s an abstract concern for now, but I think it’s at least worth noting.