By Alden Gonzalez and Sarah K. Spencer
PITTSBURGH -- Well-struck home runs by Gregory Polanco and Matt Joyce punctuated a five-run seventh inning for the Pirates, who held on for an 8-7 win over the Angels on Saturday at PNC Park.
With the score tied at 3 in what was very much a seesaw game through the first six innings, Polanco led off with a prodigious blast to right field off Angels reliever Fernando Salas. Josh Harrison contributed an RBI single later that inning and Joyce launched a pinch-hit, three-run homer deep into the grass in straightaway center field.
"I spend a lot of time preparing and trying to learn about the pitchers, try to be as prepared as possible," Joyce said of being 8-for-23 as a pinch-hitter this season. "Hit off the machine during the game and try to get up to game speed. There's no secret formula, it's just one of those things where you really put in the hard work, the time, the dedication, and it's paying off."
Joyce batted only .174/.272/.291 with the Angels last year, but he is hitting .333/.465/.681 since joining the Pirates on a Minor League deal.
Pirates starter Jeff Locke gave up three runs in seven innings, and Angels starter Jhoulys Chacin worked around six hits and four walks to give up three runs in the first five innings. The Angels rallied for four runs in the eighth, getting an RBI double by Yunel Escobar, an RBI single by Kole Calhoun, a run-scoring groundout by Johnny Giavotella and a two-out RBI double by Carlos Perez.
But Mark Melancon closed it out in the ninth, snapping the Pirates' four-game losing streak.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED That escalated quickly: The Angels couldn't stop the bleeding after Polanco gave the Pirates their third lead of the game in the seventh. Giavotella threw wide of first on a grounder up the middle, allowing Starling Marte to reach second, and Harrison followed with an RBI single two batters later. With two on and two out later that inning, Joyce stepped in to face lefty reliever Greg Mahle and launched a ball projected by Statcast™ to travel 439 feet to straightaway center field for a back-breaking three-run homer. More >
"It seems like with Greg it's one pitch," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "The one for the home run just kind of stayed straight down the middle and didn't have the usual movement in it. Matt Joyce didn't miss it."
Up, up and almost in the river: On the first pitch of his at-bat in the seventh, Polanco launched a home run a projected 451 feet, which bounced off a sign sitting atop the right-field bleachers. With nine home runs, Polanco has tied his total from last season.
Here's to you, Mr. Robinson: Diminutive Angels outfielder Shane Robinson lifted a rare home run to the shortest part of PNC Park, hitting Locke's sixth-inning fastball a projected 340 feet down the line in left field to tie the game at 3. It was Robinson's sixth home run in 683 career plate appearances and his first since June 11, 2013, while with the Cardinals.
Kang of PNC Park: Third baseman Jung Ho Kang sent a home run to the bushes in center field in the second inning, giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. Kang is 10-for-30 (a .333 batting average) with three home runs in 10 games at PNC Park this season.
"Of course I was upset about the solo home runs. But I remember when [Pirates pitcher Jonathon] Niese was giving up a few of them earlier in the year, he'd get mad about it ... and I'd see him out there kicking the dirt around. Now that it's happening to me, I can't be upset about it when I'm trying to tell him to calm down."-- Locke, on keeping the two solo home runs he gave up in perspective
"It wasn't really a big deal. I just wasn't controlling my pitches. I was all over the place, but I battled. I did the best I could do." -- Chacin, on starting a day earlier than expected because Nick Tropeano was scratched from his scheduled Saturday start with a shoulder issue
Pirates catcher Chris Stewart seemingly lost count of the number of outs in the top of the first, jogging back to the dugout after Mike Trout struck out, thinking it was the end of the inning when it was only the second out. Escobar appeared to make the same mistake in the third, when he was doubled off second on a Calhoun fly ball that settled into Polanco's glove. But Scioscia said Escobar knew the situation and was just thinking it would bounce off the right-field wall. The fence is so close that Escobar wasn't sure if he would score if it fell in unless he got a running start. It wound up costing Trout an RBI opportunity.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Joe Smith caught Andrew McCutchen leaning for the first out of the eighth inning, giving the Angels their Major League-leading 15th pickoff this season. No other team has picked off more than eight baserunners. The Major League record for pickoffs is 39, set by the 1992 Braves. The Angels are on pace for 44.
Smith worked around two walks and a hit-by-pitch that inning and admitted to pitching through discomfort in his left hamstring for the better part of the last three weeks. The Angels' setup man is determined to not land on the disabled list, saying: "It affects some stuff, but it's not painful enough to where I would say I can't pitch. It's definitely affected my delivery."
WHAT'S NEXT Angels: Lefty Hector Santiago takes the ball for Sunday's series finale at PNC Park, with first pitch set for 10:35 a.m. PT. Santiago (3-3, 4.96 ERA) has allowed seven home runs over his last three starts and was charged with six runs in 6 2/3 innings his last time out against the Tigers.
Pirates: Right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-4, 2.72 ERA) will start on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET as the Pirates try to win the series. In his last start, Cole gave up nine hits and three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, taking the loss against the Marlins.