Ron Cook: Watching top of Pirates order easy as 1-2-3



Here's a friendly piece of advice to Pirates fans who are thinking about going to a ballgame at PNC Park or watching on television: Be in your seats or favorite chair on time. You don't want to miss something special.

Gregory Polanco hit the fourth pitch of the Pirates' first inning Wednesday night for a double and kept going to third when Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Gerardo Parra bobbled the ball. Starling Marte bounced out to shortstop on the sixth pitch, driving in Polanco. Just like that, the Pirates led, 1-0. They went on to win, 5-1, their 10th win in the past 13 games. They have baseball's best record -- 34-22 -- since May 2 and have put themselves in position to have a second consecutive memorable summer.

There's a good chance there will be plenty more wins as long as Polanco, Marte and Andrew McCutchen stay one-two-three at the top of the lineup. It's the team's best lineup, by far.

That's why it was a bit troubling to see McCutchen hobble out of the batter's box in the eighth inning when he blooped an RBI single between left fielder David Peralta and center fielder Ender Inciarte. He fouled a pitch off his left foot in that at-bat and was removed from the game at the end of the inning. It will be a crying shame for the Pirates if he has to miss more than a start or two.

"Guys can manage their entire career and not have the opportunity I do right now with those guys," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I'm blessed."

Hurdle, who appeared to be in more pain after the game than McCutchen because of a bad hip, put Polanco, Marte and McCutchen at the top of his lineup for the first time in eight days after Marte had to miss four starts with a finger injury and McCutchen and Polanco were given days off. The results were terrific.

Polanco had a two-run home run and a walk to go along with his double. Marte also walked, stole a base and drove in the Pirates' fourth run with a double off the Roberto Clemente wall in right field. McCutchen, on the day he was named the National League's Player of the Month for June, had two singles, a walk and an RBI.

It's pretty much been that way in the 11 games Polanco, Marte and McCutchen have been one-two-three. They have combined to hit .349 with eight doubles, three home runs, 27 RBIs and 27 runs scored.

"They're special," Hurdle said. "When you bunch them together, good things are going to happen. That's what I believe."

Polanco, Marte and McCutchen can beat an opponent in a variety of ways. Hurdle was more than happy to provide a list: "Defense. Baserunning. Hitting. All the way around. All of 'em have five tools. All can steal a base. All can barrel the ball. All can hit it the other way. They're just dynamic, dynamic players."

You know McCutchen has the whole package. He wasn't player of the month by accident or National League MVP in 2013 without good reason. But Polanco and Marte also are showing complete games.

Polanco is hitting .306 with an .827 OPS since his call-up June 10 from the minors. The home run in the second inning off Arizona starter Chase Anderson was Polanco's third in 85 big-league at-bats and was impressive because of the way he went down to get a low breaking ball.

"It's fun to watch him," Hurdle said of Polanco. "He's got skills and he pays attention."

Marte has been terrific since Hurdle benched him for four games in early June "to knock the noise out of his head."

Marte hit .348 in his past 17 games with seven doubles, a home run and 13 RBIs.

"He continues to develop," Hurdle said.

Hurdle is right about being pretty lucky to be able to write Polanco, Marte and McCutchen at the top of his lineup card.

So are the rest of us who get to enjoy their play.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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