SAN FRANCISCO -- Earlier this week, the Pirates were swept by the worst team in the league. Now, they’re on the verge of sweeping the best team in the league. Funny how baseball works.
Behind a season-high 16 hits and lights-out pitching, the Pirates beat the Giants, 10-2, on Saturday at Oracle Park, not only giving Pittsburgh the series victory, but clinching the season series as well.
“This kind of game like we played today will give us confidence,” said outfielder Gregory Polanco. “We have to stay like that every day -- fight, fight.”
If the goal, as Polanco said, is to fight, then Pittsburgh was ready to spar against one of the league’s best hurlers, roughing up Kevin Gausman to the tune of a season-high six runs and chasing him with one out in the fifth inning.
The Pirates put pressure on Gausman from the jump as leadoff man Adam Frazier singled on the first pitch of the game, foreshadowing how the night would unfold. From the right-hander’s first offering onward, he pitched almost exclusively from the stretch. In four of the five innings that Gausman pitched in, the Pirates put a runner on second base.
When Gausman entered play, his ERA stood at an MLB-best 1.84. By the end of the night, Gausman’s ERA was 2.21 and no longer atop the leaderboard.
“This guy’s an All-Star,” said manager Derek Shelton. “His ERA [was] under two and continues to pitch well. Our guys had good at-bats. They had a really solid approach. They did not vary from it. Because of that, we were able to get to him early, then continue to add on.”
At the center of Pittsburgh’s offense was Polanco. Not only did Polanco drive in a run in all three of his plate appearances against Gausman, but he took on the deepest part of the park and won, hitting a 426-foot home run off Gausman to right-center field. Polanco didn’t initially think he had a homer off the bat given the low launch angle, but with a 112 mph exit velocity, his line drive had enough juice to fly over the fence.
Since the All-Star break, Polanco has found his stride at the plate, going 7-for-23 with a triple and two home runs. Should Polanco, who has 11 home runs and 11 steals this year, put together a couple more stat-stuffing performances, perhaps a contender or two may inquire about his services ahead of Friday’s Trade Deadline.
Right alongside Polanco was Kevin Newman, who had four hits and drove in three runs to complement some stellar defense. This season has been, in a word, rough for Newman -- the shortstop is hitting .216 with a wRC+ of 45 -- but Saturday was an evening in which he got the breaks that have long eluded him.
“I feel like Greg and I do a great job throughout the whole year, honestly, feeding off each other, not just tonight,” Newman said. “We’re super close and we bring each other up and cheer each other on a whole bunch. I’m super happy for him. I’m sure he’s happy for me.”
Polanco and Newman were just two of several Pirates who were locked in on Saturday. All-Stars Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds had two hits apiece, while Ben Gamel had three. Michael Perez chipped in two hits of his own, including the first triple of his career.
By the time the ninth inning rolled around, the Giants waved the white flag, sending in outfielder Mike Tauchman for his first career pitching appearance. Neither John Nogowski nor Gamel nor Newman showed any mercy, rattling off three consecutive hits to drive in a run off their fellow position player.
“You’re facing a position player and you never really know what to expect,” Newman said. “So you go up there and then after you get a hit, you’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s just a gift.’ Before the fact, it’s nerve-racking and then after the fact, it’s awesome.”
As brilliant as the offense was the pitching of Wil Crowe, who struck out a career-high nine batters and allowed two runs across 5 1/3 innings. Along with the punchouts, Crowe generated 35 called strikes plus whiffs, also a career-high. It wasn’t quite a quality start, but easily one of Crowe’s best outings of the season, just as it was one of Pittsburgh’s best games of the season.
The Pirates won’t always have the home fans heading for the exits with baseball left to be played, but if for but a night, Pittsburgh proved itself capable of sparring and outlasting the league’s best.