By Will Graves
July 25, 2015
Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker, right, rounds third to greetings from third base coach Rick Sofield (41) after hitting a solo-home run off Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer in the fifth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Friday, July 24, 2015. Walker hit this pitch for a solo-home run. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Max Scherzer came within a grazed elbow of a perfect game the last time he faced the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Not this time. Not even close.
Gregory Polanco ended a 12-pitch at bat with a two-run homer off the Washington Nationals ace and later added an RBI-single off reliever Sammy Solisas the Pirates pulled away for a 7-5 win on Friday night.
''That's kind of what we're known for, just battling and grinding it out,'' said Pittsburgh second basemanNeil Walker. ''Games like tonight are pretty impressive given that's one of the best pitchers in the league.''
Scherzer overwhelmed the Pirates on June 20, throwing his first career no-hitter in a 6-0 romp, a wayward breaking ball that nicked pinch hitter Jose Tabata with two outs in the ninth the only thing separating Scherzer from a perfect game.
Perfection was never on the table on a night the Pirates took advantage of a rare wobbly performance by the former Cy Young winner. Polanco, Walker andPedro Alvarez all went deep against Scherzer, who tied a season high by giving up five runs in five innings.
''Just made some mistakes (and) they made me pay for it,'' Scherzer said. ''They know what I got and that's how it goes sometimes.''
Washington rallied to tie the game after Scherzer's exit but Brent Morel and Polanco delivered consecutive run-scoring hits for the Pirates off Solis (1-1) in the sixth as Pittsburgh won its second straight following a miserable 1-5 road trip after the All-Star break.
''It looked like we were going to be in a fist fight,'' Hurdle said. ''Guys went up there and they did the best they could with what they had with where they were and they battled. It was fun to watch.''
Vance Worley (4-5) picked up the win in relief. Mark Melancon worked around two hits in the ninth for his major-league leading 31st save.
Tyler Moore drove in two for the Nationals and Ian Desmond homered for the second straight night, but Washington couldn't rally on a night Scherzer looked ordinary.
Kang singled with one out in the second for Pittsburgh's first hit off Scherzer in 14 innings dating back to last season and Alvarez followed two pitches later with a home run that hit a concrete path outside the stadium 460 feet from home plate. The ball landed in the Allegheny River on the bounce, the first runs Pittsburgh managed against Scherzer in 20 innings.
And not the last.
Washington bounced back against Pittsburgh starter Jeff Locke in the fourth behind Tyler Moore's two-run double to take a 4-2 lead but Pittsburgh responded. Pinch-hitter Jaff Decker worked a walk - just the second issued by Scherzer in his last seven starts - and Polanco put together a brilliant at bat that showcased why the Pirates are so high on the talented but still developing 23-year-old.
Polanco fell behind 0-2, worked the count full then fouled off a handful of Scherzer fastballs before drilling a curveball at bat into the seats in right to tie the game at 4.
''I just try to fight,'' Polanco said. ''Try to fight it off the hard pitches and try to stay with my approach and stay fighting in the at bat.''
Polanco was barely back in the dugout when Walker hit a homer to nearly the exact same spot. The three home runs given up by Scherzer were the most since Oakland hit three off of him on Sept. 15, 2011, when he was pitching for Detroit.
Desmond's 10th homer of the season tied it in the top of the sixth but Morel doubled home Francisco Cervelli and Polanco laced a sharp single up the middle off Solis in the bottom of the inning to put Pittsburgh in front to stay.
Nationals: Washington scratched 1B Clint Robinson from the starting lineup shortly before game time due to an illness but Robinson entered the game in the sixth during a double switch. ... OFJayson Werth and INF Anthony Rendon could return to the team next week against Miami following lengthy stays on the disabled list. Manager Matt Williams said it was ''reasonable'' Werth's left wrist and Rendon's strained left quad may be ready to go by the middle of next week barring any late setbacks.
Pirates: Pittsburgh 1B Corey Hart's road back from knee issues and a shoulder impingement will be a long one. Manager Clint Hurdle said Friday that Hart, currently on the 60-day DL, will spend some time at home and have a lengthy rehab assignment next month before any decision is made on his availability during the stretch run.
The series continues on Saturday when Washington's Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.93 ERA) faces A.J. Burnett. The Nationals are 6-0 in the last six games Gonzalez has started against the Pirates. Burnett (8-3, 2.44), an All-Star this season for the first time in his 17-year career, is 12-6 with a 3.23 ERA in 24 career appearances against Washington. Pittsburgh expects recently acquired 3B Aramis Ramirez to be available