Round Two goes to Vazquez
Pirates closer strikes out Gallo to seal triumph
PITTSBURGH — Felipe Vazquez doesn’t let his failures linger. That wouldn’t help the Pittsburgh Pirates closer be any good at his job. Still, he wanted another shot at Texas slugger Joey Gallo. Getting touched for a 467-foot home run will do that.
So when setup man Kyle Crick hit a batter with two outs in the eighth on Tuesday night and the Pirates nursing a one-run lead, Vazquez knew if everything went right, he’d see Gallo as the last man up.
The outcome this time was different. Far different. Three pitches. Three strikes. The last two both clocked at 101 mph, followed by a fist pump, a smile and the obligatory jab to catcher Francisco Cervelli’s chest in celebration after the Pirates escaped with a 5-4 win.
“My turn,” Vazquez said after picking up his 10th save. “He got me once. He’s not going to get me twice. I knew as soon as Crick hit that guy, I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I wanted him to be up for sure. I wanted to get a little revenge in here.”
Gallo’s moon shot in the 11th last Tuesday didn’t spoil Pittsburgh’s 6-4 win, and the hard-throwing All-Star tried to play it off in the aftermath, tweeting he thought it might go “500 feet.”
“You’ve got to have fun,” Vazquez said. “You cannot get frustrated. At least me. I’m a closer. I can’t get frustrated. I cannot carry all that to my next start.”
Vazquez’s emphatic strikeout ended the only perfect inning for Pittsburgh’s bullpen. The Pirates relied on spot starter Steven Brault and six relievers to win for the fifth time in six games. Brault lasted four innings while filling in for injured Chris Archer. Michael Feliz (1-0) pitched a scoreless fifth and the Pirates survived to improve to 16-5 in their last 21 interleague games.
“It’s a night we were tough enough,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We had enough pitches.”
Pittsburgh right fielder Gregory Polanco sent a two-run shot to the first row of seats in right-center off Adrian Sampson (0-2) in the fifth, his first since dislocating his left shoulder in an awkward slide last September.
Polanco underwent surgery shortly after mangling his shoulder on Sept. 4. He returned a bit earlier than expected and is still working to rediscover the power that led him to hit a career-high 23 home runs in 2018. He entered Tuesday hitting .250 with one RBI in 10 games and spent the pregame focusing on using his lower body more to compensate for a left shoulder he admitted is still “weak.”
Polanco singled in his first at-bat — before getting caught stealing at second, though his slide was just fine — and lined out to right in the third. In the fifth, he turned on a pitch from Sampson to put Pittsburgh ahead 5-2.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be like right away because obviously this is not 100 percent,” Polanco said while touching his shoulder. “This is still weak. But, you know, it’s getting there. It’s getting there.”
Hunter Pence drove in all four runs for Texas, doubling twice and adding his fourth home run. The rest of the Rangers went 2 for 27. Texas stranded eight runners and went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Manager Chris Woodward could start giving Pence more opportunities going forward. The 36-year-old is now hitting .333 with 17 RBIs while serving as part of an outfield rotation.
“We definitely need to find a way to get him in there more often,” Woodward said. “He deserves playing time. He really does. Obviously, I think everybody is taking notice.”
LECLERC BOUNCES BACK
The Rangers took Jose Leclerc out of the closer’s role last week after he blew a save against the Pirates. He threw a shutout inning of relief in Toronto over the weekend and allowed just one baserunner in two innings of work on Tuesday.
“To see Jose get two scoreless, it’s really cool to see him having success,” Woodward said. “I feel pretty confident that not too long from now, he’s going to be back in his role that he had.”
Pirates: RHP Archer (right thumb inflammation) did some flat-ground work on Tuesday but remains out indefinitely. … RHP Keone Kela sat out his second straight game with right shoulder soreness.
Rangers: Shelby Miller (1-2, 7.99 ERA) has allowed four runs in each of his last five starts heading into Wednesday’s series finale. He took the loss against Pittsburgh last week, surrendering four runs in 3• innings.
Pirates: Nick Kingham (1-0, 6.39) makes his first start of the season, filling in for Archer. Kingham went 5-7 with a 5.32 ERA in 15 starts as a rookie in 2018.