PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates are learning to win without Andrew McCutchen. A sudden power surge and a more mature approach on the bases is certainly helping.
Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli homered and the Pittsburgh Pirates took advantage of a sloppy inning by former closer Tony Watson to slip by the San Francisco Giants 6-5 on Saturday night for their fifth straight victory.
Polanco and Cervelli combined for 16 home runs last season on a team that finished under .500 and ranked in the bottom three in the majors in runs, home runs and slugging percentage. They're in the top 10 in all three a quarter of the way through 2018 thanks in part to Polanco and Cervelli's resurgence. Polanco already has eight home runs this season and Cervelli's two-run shot in the sixth pushed his total to six, just one short of his career high set in 2015.
"You see the difference," Polanco said. "We're scoring a lot of runs, we're having fun."
They're also making little plays along with the big ones.
The winning run came in the eighth off former Pirates closer Tony Watson thanks in part to some quick thinking by Josh Bell. The first baseman led off the bottom of the eighth against Watson (1-2) with a double to right-center and was at third when pinch-hitter David Freese hit a chopper up the third-base line. San Francisco's Evan Longoria fielded the ball and thought about trying to tag Bell, who deftly sidestepped Longoria and returned to third.
"Good heads up play with a veteran third baseman over there who looked like he made a good move and before you know it, (Bell's) not there and it's too late to get the throw off," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a play that happened, kind of fell in favor of us. Heads up play by Josh."
Everyone was safe to load the bases, and Watson — an All-Star in Pittsburgh in his six-plus seasons with the club — hit former teammate Jordy Mercer to force in Bell.
Felipe Vazquez (2-0), who took over as Pirates closer when Watson faltered last season, got the final five outs after Pittsburgh blew a two-run lead earlier in the night.
McCutchen went 2 for 5 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Longoria and Alen Hanson homered in San Francisco's sixth straight loss.
McCutchen received multiple standing ovations and two video tributes in his initial return to PNC Park on Friday night after being traded in January, with chants of "MVP" raining down from the upper deck before his first at-bat. The moment proved cathartic for both McCutchen and his former team, which blasted four home runs on its way to an 11-2 victory.
Things were a bit more muted 24 hours later, thanks in part to a 93-minute rain delay that left most of the crowd hiding under ponchos for protection from an intermittent downpour. Just like Friday, however, the crowd rose to its feet when McCutchen walked toward the batter's box in the first. McCutchen took off his helmet as the applause washed over him. He tried to cut it a bit shorter than the one on Friday, but Cervelli wouldn't let him. The catcher stood on the infield grass and refused to move toward his usual spot behind the plate to make sure his former teammate drank it all in.
Then the baseball began and the Pirates kept right on rolling even without the player most responsible for the franchise's turnaround while the Giants continued to scuffle. San Francisco started a 10-game East Coast trip with a sweep by sweeping Atlanta but now hasn't won in nearly a week.
"It's tough," said Giants starter Jeff Samardzija, who allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings to see his ERA creep up to 6.94. "You start out of the gate hot against a really good team down in Atlanta. But we pitched (well) in Atlanta. When we can go out and get right back in the dugout with some crisp innings, it keeps a good rhythm because it gets your hitters back in there to hit and score some runs."
Giants: OF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento. ... Hanson was removed as a precaution after experiencing tightness in his left hamstring while singling in the eighth.
Pirates: RHP Joe Musgrove (strained right shoulder) pitched 5 2/3 no-hit innings in a rehab start at Triple-A Indianapolis. Musgrove threw 60 of his 79 pitches for strikes. ... Pittsburgh is hopeful Jameson Taillon can make his next scheduled start. He exited after three innings on Friday due to a laceration on his right ring finger.
Giants: Derek Holland (1-4, 5.66 ERA) will look for his first road win in nearly a year on Sunday.
Pirates: Ivan Nova (2-2, 4.84 ERA) lasted just two innings in his previous start on Tuesday in Chicago.