Polanco homers twice to back Niese’s solid outing

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Yadier Molina No.4 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on as Gregory Polanco No.25 of the Pittsburgh Pirates crosses home plate after hitting his second home run of the game during the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri.  AFP PHOTO

Yadier Molina No.4 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on as Gregory Polanco No.25 of the Pittsburgh Pirates crosses home plate after hitting his second home run of the game during the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri. AFP PHOTO

ST. LOUIS: Gregory Polanco had his first career two-homer game, and left-hander Jon Niese turned in a solid performance on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) as the Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-2.

Although a sore hamstring has limited Polanco to just 15 innings in the outfield since June 24, his swing remains dangerous.

Polanco hit a two-run shot in the sixth inning to give the Pirates the lead. He added an opposite-field solo home run in the eighth.

Niese (7-6) had lost each of his previous four starts, putting up an 8.86 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP. Against the Cardinals, he went 5 2/3 innings and gave up one run on seven hits, walked one and struck out three.


Closer Mark Melancon and relievers Tony Watson and A.J. Schugel, who each were worked hard during the series sweep against the Oakland A’s, were not available. However, Arquimedes Caminero, Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz combined to secure the win.

Nicasio struck out the side in the eighth on the minimum nine pitches. He’s the first Pirates pitcher to do it since Ross Ohlendorf on Sept. 5, 2009.

When Feliz yielded Matt Carpenter’s RBI double in the ninth, it ended the bullpen’s franchise-record run of 34 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Feliz hung on to get his first save of the season.

Niese served up several well-struck balls, but was bailed out by his outfielders.

In the second, Jhonny Peralta drove a changeup off the left field wall — another few inches higher and it would have been a homer instead of a double. With two outs, Brandon Moss mashed a fly ball to center, but right at Andrew McCutchen, and the game stayed scoreless.

Back-to-back singles by David Freese and Josh Harrison got the fifth inning started. With the Nos. 8 and 9 batters behind him, Jordy Mercer needed to get a hit if the Pirates had any chance to score.

The good news: Mercer singled to right field.

The bad news: Moss got to the ball quickly, so Freese had to hold at third base.

With the bases loaded and none out, right-hander Carlos Martinez picked apart Erik Kratz, who struck out swinging at a slider well out of the zone. Niese then bounced into an inning-ending double play.

In their half of the fifth, the bottom of the Cardinals’ lineup set up a scoring chance. With a runner a first and one out, Martinez singled to center.

Matt Carpenter slided an RBI single to right field. With runners on the corners and one out, Niese kept it at 1-0 by getting two ground-ball outs.

John Jaso led off the sixth with a double, his first extra-base hit in 24 at-bats since a home run on June 22.

Polanco caught hold of a 2-1 changeup and sent it into the right field seats. Polanco’s 11th home run gave the Pirates a one-run lead.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny bucked the odds in the seventh, and it cost his team a run.

With Mercer at second and two outs, Matheny stuck with Martinez, whose pitch count was over 100, against Jaso. A lefty hitter, Jaso bats .275 against righties and .171 against left-handers.

Jaso took a borderline pitch to run the count full, then rolled a single up the middle. Mercer scored to make it 3-1.

TNS

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