While Gregory Polanco went 0-for-4 on Friday night in St. Louis, his stellar effort with the glove helped the Pirates pull out a 4-3 win over the Cardinals.
The Pirates' right fielder made two grabs with catch probabilities of 35 percent or lower, according to Statcast™, becoming only the third player this year to do that in a game. Polanco joined Steven Souza Jr. of the Rays (April 28 at Toronto) and Carlos Gomez of the Rangers (May 4 vs. Houston) in that prestigious club.
A play's catch probability is based on the distance the outfielder needs to travel and how much time he has to do so. Opportunities then are placed on a scale of one star (easiest) to five stars (hardest). Entering Friday, Polanco had gone a combined 0-for-14 this season on chances categorized as four stars (26-50 percent) or five stars (0-25 percent) -- but he changed that in a dramatic way.
"He's a great outfielder," Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright said of the lanky, 6-foot-5 Polanco. "He takes those big long strides, just three or four strides eat up a lot of ground."
Mostly a right fielder over his first three big league seasons, Polanco began this year in left as the Pirates shifted their outfield alignment. However, he returned to right on May 9 and has remained there since. Polanco went on the disabled list after straining his left hamstring while chasing a fly ball on May 14 in Arizona, then missed a couple of games with a sprained right ankle he sustained going after a foul ball on May 29 in Pittsburgh.
When Polanco grounded out in the sixth inning Friday and got down the line slowly on what might have been a close play, it prompted speculation on the Pirates' television broadcast that those injuries were still hindering him physically. But Polanco's play in right over the rest of the game emphatically quashed those concerns.
In the bottom of the sixth, with a runner on first and one out in a 2-2 game, St. Louis' Jose Martinez slapped a sinking liner to right. Polanco had only 3.5 seconds to cover 51 feet but he did so with a sprawling, four-star catch (35-percent catch probability) that he followed up with a toss to first to double off Stephen Piscotty.
An inning later, Polanco topped himself. The Cardinals already had grabbed a 3-2 lead and had runners on first and second with two outs when Tommy Pham sliced a liner to right at 102.2 mph. This time, Polanco had only 2.9 seconds to cover 38 feet, as he moved toward the line for a diving, five-star grab (16-percent catch probability). It was his eighth five-star catch since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015.
"He made a couple of nice plays." Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The one coming in there off Pham, he had a nice jump. That's a gutsy play because that's multiple runs there if he doesn't come up with it. But he's a plus defender. They have a good outfield."
Polanco foiled the Cardinals yet again in the eighth, protecting a 3-3 tie and getting Felipe Rivero out of a two-on, two-out jam with a sliding catch on a shallow fly ball from Paul DeJong. However, Polanco may have gotten a bit of a late break on that one, resulting in a more modest two-star catch (82-percent catch probability).
Still, it was a crucial play in what became a Bucs victory on John Jaso's solo homer in the top of the ninth.
"Look at the plays Polanco made out in right field tonight," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We talked 10 days ago about him not making plays. Laid out for three balls tonight. We're playing hard. It looks better when we win and we play hard."