CHICAGO — Josh Bell completed his first year in the major leagues the same way he began it: with success against Jake Arrieta.
Bell doubled twice against the Chicago Cubs starter, Gregory Polanco homered and the Pirates won, 4-2, at Wrigley Field Saturday. They finally gained ground on the Milwaukee Brewers, who lost on a walk-off home run against the New York Yankees Saturday. But they remain six games worse than .500, at 41-47, and seven games back.
Exactly a year ago Saturday, Josh Bell began his major league career by pinch-hitting for Neftali Feliz in the seventh inning. He lined the first pitch Jake Arrieta threw him into right field for his first career hit. Facing Arrieta again Saturday on the anniversary of his debut, he went 2 for 3 with two doubles (he added a single against Brian Duensing later) and is now 6 for 11 with three extra-base hits and three walks against Arrieta.
Arrieta lacked top-notch command all game. He threw 20 strikes and 16 balls in the first two innings. Ball four to Gregory Polanco in the second should been strike three, but Arrieta didn’t get the call because he missed his target by almost the width of the strike zone. He hit two batters on two-seamers that ran inside. Despite this he allowed one run through five.
The absence of command began resulting in hard contact in the sixth, the third time through the Pirates’ lineup. Bell doubled for the second time. After an out, Arrieta left a 1-1 offering high and away to Polanco.
The Pirates’ Gregory Polanco, right, celebrates with Andrew McCutchen after hitting a two-run homer against the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning of Saturday’s game in Chicago. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)
Polanco’s 6-foot-5 frame and long arms curse him at times. Inside pitches negate his reach. His swing lengthens. But they also turn high and outside pitches into cookies, and Polanco didn’t miss: He drove the ball out to dead center and knew it was gone off the bat. His two-run homer put his team back in the lead. Jordy Mercer extended the separation to 4-2 with an RBI double.
The first two outs of the fourth inning typified the night Ivan Nova enjoyed to that point. A good two-seamer broke Kris Bryant’s bat as he pulled the ball to David Freese at third base. The efficiency was evident in the next at-bat. Nova got Anthony Rizzo to fly out on the first pitch.
Two high fastballs became too-high fastballs to the next two hitters.
Nova did not need to turn and watch Ian Happ’s 13th homer leave the yard. He could tell off the bat. He did turn and watch Kyle Schwarber’s 13th homer, the one that gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
Nova did not give up another hit for the remainder of the evening. He struck out the side in the fifth. Ben Zobrist reached on an Adam Frazier error (Frazier bobbled a routine grounder, his second error in as many days at second base; Max Moroff replaced him in the seventh inning). Schwarber walked with one out in the seventh. After another out, manager Clint Hurdle summoned Tony Watson to face Jason Heyward, even though Nova was at 92 pitches and had struck Heyward out twice.
Heyward grounded out weakly on Watson’s first pitch. In 6⅔ innings Nova allowed the two solo homers, a single and a walk, with six strikeouts.
Hurdle made another aggressive move in the eighth. Facing Juan Nicasio, Tommy La Stella blooped a well-placed fly ball down the left-field line that resulted in a one-out double. After Zobrist grounded out and put the runner on third, Hurdle brought in Felipe Rivero to face Bryant.
Bryant walked. Anthony Rizzo turned 102 mph around on Rivero, and the line drive ticked off his glove, but Mercer recorded the out. Rivero pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.