Gene Collier: Pirates lineup takes advantage of lefty-friendly dimensions



On the very kind of night PNC Park was built for, the kind of night when left-handed batters in black and gold lashed baseballs toward the full advantage of the yard's eminently reachable right-field distances, the Pirates were careful to add a key detail.

They won.

"I'm still a fan of the three-run homer," manager Clint Hurdle had said some hours before, as though by necessary clarification.

It would follow then that he would be a fan of three one-run homers, as well, so Neil Walker, Ike Davis and Gregory Polanco all reaching the seats in right in a little more than an inning fairly delighted the skipper, especially since no Pirates lineup of any stripe had produced three homers in the same game since April 17.

Furthermore, for all of its semi-hollow rep as a left-hander's offensive playpen, Tuesday night was the first time PNC Park yielded homers to three different left-handed-hitting Pirates in five years.

Exactly five years.

Garrett Jones, Ryan Doumit and Brandon Moss did it July 22, 2009. Another five years need not pass before we see such an explosion again, what with a wealth of left-handed bangers in residence.

That all this came on the night commissioner Bud Selig's victory tour hit Pittsburgh, allowing baseball's retiring omBudsman to confer on the Pirates the title of Exemplars of Parity, it was somehow left unnoticed that the club teeming out of the visiting dugout had a payroll of more than $200 million, roughly three times the current Nutting outlay.

Whatever.

Don't get me started.

Regardless, the Pirates went swiftly about the business of thumping 'em, 12-7, which is only what they should have done, when you consider both the state of the Dodgers and the continually urgent condition of Hurdle's team.

The Dodgers are in this series without the talents of Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, which is only, you know, the heart of the batting order. Subtract them to injury and you remove 23 homers and 101 RBIs.

On top of that, the Dodgers were bringing Josh Beckett off the disabled list after his hip impingement, and the Pirates made him look vulnerable.

Add the reality that the Pirates had lost eight of 11 and 11 of 16 against teams with winning records, and it was plainly a game the home team really needed, especially considering the overheated politics within the National League Central.

The most promising development that got all but lost over nine innings of escalating drama was not Polanco's first home run since July 2, but his at bat with the bases loaded in the sixth.

The hyper-talented rookie had been mad about his miserable July, but not, as Hurdle pointed out, sad.

"We don't do sad," Hurdle said. "It's good to be mad. It's OK to be mad. There have been games he's been mad he hasn't done better. That is what fuels good players, great players.

"There is an understanding that it's happening, so how can we recorrect, rekindle, reboot, and he's been very balanced and very balanced in his self-evaluation."

Polanco is always going to have a fairly long swing, unfortunately, and long swings typically have plenty of holes in them.

"He's got long arms, yeah, the swing is the swing," Hurdle said. "But you can still be short to the ball with long arms and the thing that's been really good when he's been good is that there's a direct path to the ball.

"Throughout his challenges, adversity, bad numbers whatever, sometimes you correct things in ways that aren't to your benefit.

"I've had guys who are 0 for 3 and when they go up there the fourth time, as a left-handed batter, I remind them they're to be thinking of a line drive to left center, and some say, 'Yeah, but 1 for 4 with a homer would be better.' "

Thus it was highly encouraging that Polanco was able to recalibrate his swing for the situation in the sixth, just three innings after his high fly to right carried into the crowd. On a 3-2 pitch from Jamey Wright with the bases loaded and two out, Polanco calmly swatted it to left for his second and third RBI, and that triggered a four-run inning his team would sorely need, at least in the moment.

On a night when Pedro Alvarez, your primary left-handed thumper, was forced to exit when he hurt himself running out a double in the fourth, Walker and Davis and Polanco hit three homers and drove in eight runs.

That's always been what a night at this summer address is supposed to look like.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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