1. Pittsburgh Pirates hit three home runs off Max Scherzer. While Scherzer wasn't tagged with the loss in the 7-5 win for Pittsburgh, the Pirates did knock him for five runs and he failed to go at least six innings for just the second time this season. It was also the first time since 2011 that he allowed three home runs in one game. Gregory Polanco hit the big one, a two-run shot in the fifth inning that tied the game. Following Jaff Decker's pinch-hit leadoff walk -- he fouled off two 3-2 pitches -- to get the inning going, Polanco had a great 12-pitch battle with Scherzer, one of the best I've seen this season:
1. 95 mph fastball, swing and miss
2. 93 mph fastball, called strike
3. 94 mph fastball, fouled off
4. 95 mph fastball, ball
5. 95 mph fastball, ball
6. 87 mph changeup, ball
7. 96 mph fastball, fouled off
8. 95 mph fastball, fouled off
9. 95 mph fastball, fouled off
10. 96 mph fastball, fouled off
11. 96 mph fastball, fouled off
12. 82 mph curveball, home run to right field
Polanco was late on all those fastballs. Scherzer kept trying to blow one by him. Decker's walk was key, because Scherzer didn't want to expand the strike zone and walk Polanco as well. With nobody on, Scherzer probably tries to elevate one of those heaters. Instead, he finally went to the off-speed pitch and Polanco hit it out. What an at-bat.
Nationals announcer F.P. Santangelo said before that curveball that Scherzer should stick with the fastball, since Polanco was still late on it. He didn't. Boom. With Neil Walker up next, Santangelo said Walker would be sitting fastball after Scherzer gave up the home run on the breaking ball. He was right again. Walker hit a 1-1 fastball for back-to-back home runs. The third homer was this Pedro Alvarez blast in the second inning that soared into the Allegheny River.
If the Pirates are going to have any chance of running down the Cardinals, they'll need a big final two months from Polanco. He's hitting .243 and that was just his fourth home run, but there's potential for more.
The Pirates ended up scoring the winning runs off reliever Sammy Solis -- the middle of the Washington bullpen is a little shaky -- to take the first two games of the series. Nice wins for a Pirates team that had scuffled coming out of the break.
Gregory Polanco: HR on 12th pitch of AB vs Max Scherzer That's tied for longest AB ending in HR this season (Prado, Moustakas)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 25, 2015
Max Scherzer is mortal and (for about 5 minutes) Gregory Polanco was not. Pirates win 7-5.— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) July 25, 2015
2. Scott Kazmir, Houston Astros. Wrote about him here. In his Astros debut, he threw seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Royals. He and teammate Dallas Keuchel now rank 1-2 in the American League in ERA.
3. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox. Of course he pitched a seven-hit shutout, the first shutout of his career, in a 6-0 win over the Indians. Corey Kluber started for the Indians and they don't score runs for him! That's the 14th time in 21 starts Cleveland has scored two or fewer runs in support of Kluber. OK, kudos to Quintana for a gem. It was the first shutout for the White Sox that featured eight-plus strikeouts since Philip Humber's perfect game in 2012 (thanks, Doug Kern!).
4. Jeff Francoeur, Philadelphia Phillies. Tough 5-3 loss for the Cubs. First, the Phillies tied it in the ninth with a run off Jason Motte. Then, Francoeur hit a two-run homer in the 10th off Rafael Soriano. For Francoeur, it was his third clutch homer in eight days -- he hit a walk-off two-run shot on July 19 to give the Phillies an 8-7 win over the Marlins, and a three-run homer in the eighth on July 17. You know, Frenchy is slugging .450. The OBP is still under .300 at .297. He could be a guy a contender picks up to help out coming off the bench.
5. This circus catch. OK, it was from Thursday and it was from the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Can't say we've seen one quite like it before.