Walk-off homer sends Bucs fans home happy
PITTSBURGH — With the winning run on second base as he stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth, Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell could feel his heart racing.
The rookie tried to get his breathing under control but couldn’t. Adrenaline won out. The Pirates, too.
Bell sent a 1-2 pitch from St. Louis Cardinals closer Seung Hwan into the seats in left field to give Pittsburgh a dramatic 5-2 victory Friday night. Bell’s 17th home run of the season was also his first walk-off hit in the majors, a show of power that gave the Pirates their sixth win in seven games as they try to climb into the thick of the underwhelming race in the NL Central.
“It was cool,” Bell said. “The lights go off and come back on, you’re rounding third and you see all your teammates at home. I haven’t had that feeling since Double-A, and the stadium here is a little louder than that.”
Adam Frazier led off the inning with a double and Oh intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen with one out. Bell missed badly at the first offering from Oh (1-5) and then took a ball and a called strike before putting the ball into the seats over the outstretched arm of Cardinals left fielder Tommy Pham.
“It was too high. It was a missed pitch,” Oh said.
Bell finished 2 for 3 with four RBIs. Frazier added three hits, and Gregory Polanco had two hits and an RBI.
Felipe Rivero (4-2) retired the Cardinals on seven pitches in the top of the ninth.
“That game was a bit of a roller coaster,” Bell said. “Setting the standard the first game of this series and the first game of this homestand was big.”
Jedd Gyorko hit a two-run homer in the first inning for the Cardinals, but St. Louis was limited to just four hits the rest of the way against Gerrit Cole and three relievers.
“I thought we did a good job of staying in the ballgame, playing tough and Josh coming up big after putting Andrew on,” Cole said.
Both teams sent their de facto aces out to start the second half of the season in search of some early traction as they try to chase down first-place Milwaukee the wide-open NL Central.
Cole put together a wildly inconsistent first half that mirrored the fortunes of his scuffling team. He came in allowing one run three times in his last seven starts, the same number of times he’s allowed seven runs over the same span.
It looked as though it could be another bumpy outing in the first when Gyorko sent a 3-2 slider into the seats in right-center field to give the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead. Cole settled down immediately, allowing just two more baserunners over six innings of work, striking out four without issuing a walk.
Mike Leake wasn’t quite as crisp. He retired the Pirates in order just once in five innings, allowing an RBI single to Bell in the fourth and another to Polanco in the fifth that tied the game, capping a two-out rally created by a rare bout of wildness from Leake, who walked the bases full. He struck out Francisco Cervelli to keep the game even.
Leake left after five, giving up two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and five walks, his highest total since May 22, 2015, while pitching for Cincinnati. Leake hinted plate umpire Jerry Layne’s strike zone was part of the problem.
“It wasn’t consistent,” Leake said. “If you have a consistent zone, it’s all right.”
Cardinals: Placed OF Randal Grichuk (lower back strain) on the 10-day disabled list and recalled OF Jose Martinez from Triple-A Memphis. Martinez hit .280 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 50 games with St. Louis this season. … St. Louis also activated reliever Kevin Siegrist (cervical spine sprain) off the disabled list. … RF Stephen Piscotty left in the bottom of the ninth after straining his right groin while making a throw from the outfield. He was replaced by Martinez.
Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (7-6, 3.61 ERA) is coming off seven shutout innings in a victory over the New York Mets last weekend. Lynn is 6-6 with a 4.76 ERA against the Pirates.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (5-2, 2.73) will make his third career start against the Cardinals on Saturday. Taillon is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA since returning from treatment for testicular cancer. He was scratched from his scheduled start last Sunday against the Cubs after getting food poisoning.