PITTSBURGH -- After winning five of their last six games before the All-Star break, the Pirates started the second half looking to prove themselves as a National League Central contender before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They got off to a good start Friday night, as Josh Bell launched his first career walk-off homer to beat the Cardinals, 5-2, in the second-half opener at PNC Park.
"It's awesome," Bell said. "Especially the ups and downs of that game, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride. Setting that standard."
Adam Frazier led off the ninth against Seung Hwan Oh with a double. Andrew McCutchen was intentionally walked, and Bell came up with one out and hammered a 1-2 fastball from Oh into the left-field seats, his 17th home run of the season and the Pirates' fifth walk-off hit this year.
The Pirates have now won 17 of their last 29 games, pulling within four games of .500 for the first time since May 29. They remain seven games behind the division-leading Brewers and eight games out of the second NL Wild Card spot. But after a rough first half, there is belief within the clubhouse they may be finally hitting their stride as they prepare to welcome back suspended outfielder Starling Marte on Tuesday.
"Every game's important. It's nice to get started on the right foot," Pirates starter Gerrit Cole said. "I thought we did a good job of staying in the ballgame, playing tough. Obviously Josh coming up big after they put Andrew on to get to him, that's huge. That's got to feel really good for him. It also feels really good to get the second half started with a win."
With two outs in the first, Jedd Gyorko slammed Cole's full-count slider into the center-field seats for his 14th home run, a two-run shot. That was all Cole would allow, however. The right-hander settled down and pitched five scoreless innings after that, allowing four hits without a walk and striking out four in his outing. Cardinals starter Mike Leake allowed two runs in five innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Redemption single: Booed for a lack of hustle and a critical mental mistake in the fourth, Polanco gave fans a reason to cheer one inning later. Polanco may have cost the Bucs a run in the fourth, when he followed a near-homer that went foul with a hit high off the center-field wall. Polanco trotted slowly out of the box and settled for a double. He reached third on Francisco Cervelli's groundout but got picked off when the next batter, Jordy Mercer, drew a walk. Cards catcher Yadier Molina and third baseman Gyorko caught Polanco walking slowly back to third base and erased him; the inning ended when Cole slowly jogged out a grounder. But Polanco evened the score in the fifth, pulling a bases-loaded single to right field.
"It's always good to get an RBI in that situation, no matter what game and what happened earlier. It was great," Polanco said. "It was exciting. I was happy to get that run back."
Out of trouble: Mercer and pinch-hitter Jose Osuna led off the sixth inning with back-to-back singles, putting Cardinals reliever Matt Bowman in somewhat of a jam. But Bowman quickly escaped. Frazier fouled off a pair of bunt attempts, then slapped Bowman's splitter into a double play that erased Mercer and Osuna. With three pitches, Bowman had turned a potentially tight spot into an easily manageable situation. Josh Harrison flied out to center field against Bowman to end the inning.
Around goes Frazier: Frazier hit just .192 in his final 43 games before the All-Star break, a sharp decline after a strong start to the season. He bounced back Friday, however, finishing 3-for-5 for his first three-hit game since June 21. Frazier legged out a double to begin the ninth, leaving a base free for the Cards to intentionally walk McCutchen and bring up Bell. His hustle stood out following Polanco's previous misstep and Frazier's inability to get down a bunt in the sixth.
"For good reason, [fans] were unhappy," Frazier said. "Just a lack of fundamentals there by all of us. We can play better, and they saw that. Running hard, trying to get that hustle double there, I'm always trying to do that. I knew how big that was for us in the ninth inning."
"Good for him. Good timing with it. I'm sure we'll see some more. … It's fun to watch him, been fun to watch him." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on Bell's first career walk-off
"Sometimes when however many people in the ballpark boo you, that gets your attention as well. It was a tough trip around the bases with Greg that time. Could he have made third? Probably a good chance third base was an option. We all know about Molina. We've had the conversation ad nauseam about Molina: You can't turn your back on Molina. … It's unfortunate. It should never happen to him again in his career." -- Hurdle, on Polanco's baserunning miscues
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Bell has hit safely in six straight games and 10 of his past 12. He homered 16 times in the first half of the season, setting a new club rookie record for home runs prior to the All-Star break, a mark set by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner (15) in 1946.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Polanco was the subject of two reviews in the fourth inning and another in the seventh. His possible home run was reviewed for just over a minute in the fourth inning by crew chief Jerry Layne. The call on the field was confirmed, and it remained a foul ball.
Polanco's slow walk back to third base was also reviewed after the Cardinals challenged the safe call. After a two-minute, 24-second review, it was determined that Gyorko tagged Polanco before his foot reached the bag. The call was overturned, and Polanco was ruled out.
"That's my bad," Polanco said. "Now, I know. You learn from that, move forward, keep my head up."
In the seventh, Polanco hit a popup down the left-field line. It appeared to hit Gyorko's glove as it descended into foul territory, and it was called a foul ball. The Pirates challenged the call, believing the ball was in fair territory -- as Gyorko was -- when it hit his glove. After a replay review, the call stood. Polanco then struck out, stranding David Freese at second base.
Hurdle was ejected in the sixth inning. After grounding into a double play, Frazier attempted to take second base. Second-base umpire Chris Guccione had already called timeout, however, so Frazier was sent back to first base. Hurdle emerged from the dugout to dispute the ruling with Layne, who tossed Hurdle. It was Hurdle's third ejection of the season, his 33rd with the Pirates and the 54th of his career.
"I had a disconnect. I actually didn't see Jerry make any motion," Hurdle said. "As I went to watch the replay, he did make a motion with his right hand. From the third-base side in the dugout, I couldn't see it at all. It was brought to my attention that maybe the second-base [umpire did], but I looked at Jerry and I didn't see it."
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals:Lance Lynn will start for the Cardinals as they continue their three-game series against the Pirates on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. CT at PNC Park. Lynn had an impressive outing in his last start, holding the Mets scoreless through seven innings and allowing just three hits. He has two starts this year of seven scoreless innings, with the other vs. the Pirates on April 17.
Pirates: After being scratched last Sunday due to food poisoning, Jameson Taillon will make his first start of the second half at 7:05 p.m. ET on Saturday as the Pirates host the Cardinals at PNC Park. Taillon owns a 3.27 ERA in two career starts against the Cards.