Pirates Gregory Polanco first at bat pops up to the Cubs shortstop in the first inning at PNC Park.
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Pirates Gregory Polanco makes his way to the field touching the Clemente tribute on his way down the steps to the dugout at PNC Park.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The fans came to see Gregory Polanco. A crowd of 31,567, an estimated 5,000 of which came from walk-up sales, saw Polanco’s first major league at-bat, his first hit, his first run.
They also saw Francisco Liriano leave the game Tuesday night due to injury, another blow to a starting rotation suffering from physical ailments in addition to poor performance.
The dawn of the Polanco era coincided with a 7-3 loss against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. His single and run in the third inning from the No. 2 hole in front of Andrew McCutchen foreshadowed what could be. Liriano’s early exit, brought upon by a strained left oblique, provided a reminder of the present. Gerrit Cole already is on the disabled list, and the rotation entered the game with the third-worst ERA in the National League.
After allowing two runs through three innings, Liriano threw a pitch to Anthony Rizzo in the fourth that caused him pain. The infielders converged, and manager Clint Hurdle and head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk visited the mound.
“Just that one pitch,” Liriano said. “Just bad discomfort on that side.”
Liriano bent over and from side to side, stretching. He threw three warm-up pitches before leaving the game. He said he never has experienced a similar injury.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Liriano said. “I thought it was a cramp. I tried to walk around but it didn’t go away.”
Liriano said he will have an MRI today to determine the severity of the strain. Hurdle said the Pirates needed to have a Plan B in place in case Liriano needed to miss a start.
“It might be a medical record if a guy can come back in four days and pitch,” Hurdle said.
Jeanmar Gomez replaced Liriano and allowed a double to Rizzo on a line drive to left that Starling Marte did not take a good angle to. Starlin Castro’s fly ball put Rizzo on third and Gomez hit Justin Ruggiano to give the Cubs runners at the corners.
Darwin Barney doubled down the left-field line to score Rizzo, giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead.
Polanco, the Pirates’ top prospect who was promoted before the game, started in right field Tuesday night in his major league debut. He popped out to shortstop in his first at-bat and lined an 0-1 fastball into left-center field for his first major league hit in the third. He finished 1 for 5.
“I know we lost, but it was my first game,” Polanco said. “I was so excited to play.”
Andrew McCutchen hit the next pitch after Polanco’s single into the bullpen for his ninth homer and second in two games, tying the score at 2-2. Polanco motored around the bases in case the ball didn’t leave the yard, only slowing halfway to home plate when third-base coach Nick Leyva applied the brakes.
The Pirates eventually tied the score, 3-3, but Casey Sadler allowed four runs in 22⁄3 innings. One of those runs scored when Rizzo’s long drive to right-center field deflected off the heel of Polanco’s glove on the warning track. The hit was ruled a double and drove in a run.
The Cubs found early success against Liriano. Junior Lake, the second batter, singled before Rizzo hit a hanging slider into the last row of seats above the Clemente Wall in right for his 13th homer.
Liriano then retired the side in order in the second and third. After needing 26 pitches to complete the first, he used 26 total pitches for the next two.
“I think I settled down before [leaving] and was making better pitches,” he said.
Josh Harrison tied the score in the fourth after Jordy Mercer reached on a fielder’s choice and Clint Barmes blooped a single to right. Hurdle removed Gomez after only one inning with two runners on and pinch-hit Jose Tabata, who singled to load the bases. Harrison’s fly ball scored Mercer, tying the score at 3-3.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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