Pirates fans’ spirits would have been lifted if Gregory Polanco threw out a Cubs baserunner at home plate, swiped a base or two, or… I don’t know… hit a baseball into orbit.
None of those happened, and that last one has probably never happened. Instead, Polanco ended his Major League debut 1-for-5, striking out once and scoring on Andrew McCutchen’s 3rd-inning home run. It was a regular-sized box score result for the prospect with super-sized expectations.
The most noise came via a 20-second standing ovation from most of the 31,567 fans who gathered for Polanco’s Pittsburgh coming out party.
“I was a bit nervous, excited, emotional,” Polanco said.
Heck, he even got cheers after that first at-bat ended in a pop out to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. The Christmas morning good feelings were still strong.
“You could tell, some of the pop-ups he hit, he just missed,” Josh Harrison said. “He’s got some pop, short swing. He’s gonna be fine.”
That swing generated Polanco’s first Major League hit in the 3rd inning, as he turned on a Travis Wood fastball and dropped it into left field for a single. It was a nice peek at the hitting skills that have put the 22-year-old Polanco into the bigs. What was even nicer for Pirates fans was seeing McCutchen follow it up with a two-run homer into the bullpens.
The sequence was the left-hook-right-hook combo that a general manager dreams up, and its fruition was satisfying to watch.
But the night was marred by a 7-3 losing Pirates effort, and more so by the potential loss of starting pitcher Francisco Liriano, who exited after 55 pitches with a left oblique strain.
“It’s never good to see one of your guys walk off like that,” Harrison said. “Frankie will bounce back. We hope he gets back soon.”
Then there was Polanco’s miscue — a tough route to the right-center-field wall that ended in an RBI double bouncing off the heel of his glove.
“I just was running,” Polanco said. “I couldn’t catch it.”
It wasn’t Gerrit Cole shutting out the Giants for six innings and hitting a two-run single. It wasn’t Starling Marte homering on his first Major League pitch. It wasn’t Andrew McCutchen scoring three times in an 11-6 win.
Man, Pirates fans have been spoiled in hyped debuts of recent years.
There would be no beginner’s luck for Polanco on Tuesday. The luck comes in baseball’s knack for giving you another chance the next day. For his part, Polanco looked relieved to get through the first-game nerves.
“I think it was good. I was very excited,” Polanco said. “I know we lost, but it was my first game. I was so excited to play.”
A space-bound home run will have to wait until tomorrow.