Grab a pen and mark this down: Friday, June 13, 2014, at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. That's the date and the venue of Gregory Polanco's coming-out party.
Oh, and the other two members of the Pittsburgh Pirates' homegrown outfield also showed up.
But we'll get to them in good time. For though he didn't do it alone, the Pirates' 8-6 win over the Miami Marlins in 13 innings Friday night was first and foremost the Gregory Polanco Show.
Batting leadoff in just his fourth major league game since his call-up earlier in the week, Polanco paced the Pirates offense by racking up three runs, two RBI and five hits in seven at-bats. The last of those was a two-run homer off lefty reliever Mike Dunn in the top of the 13th, the first of the rookie right fielder's career and, ultimately, a game-winner for the Pirates.
It looked a little something like this:
On its own, this is a cool home run. But some home runs can become even cooler with a little context, and Polanco's dinger off Dunn just so happens to be one of those.
The pitch that found its way over the right field wall was the sixth of Polanco's at-bat. The first five had all been sliders, and understandably so. According to Brooks Baseball, Dunn has held lefties to a .210 average against his slider since 2009, with just two home runs to boot. It's a lefty-hitter killer.
But that sixth pitch? That was also a slider. When Polanco made contact with it, he took a legit lefty killer and killed it.
As the man himself told Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Gregory Polanco: "I was fighting and he threw me a hanging slider and I hit it. It was my first big league home run. I was excited."— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) June 14, 2014
And indeed, we shouldn't lose sight of how that homer was one of five hits. The team let everyone know that five-hit games by Pirates rookies don't happen every year:
In all, not a bad night for Polanco's bat. After coming into the game with just three hits in 14 at-bats, he now has eight hits in 21 at-bats for a .381 average.
And by the way, his glove also had a nice night. The highlight was this dandy of a diving, juggling catch to rob Reed Johnson of a hit in the third inning:
Here's where we're obligated to say that four games is far too small of a sample size to make any definitive judgments about what kind of player Polanco is going to be. Therefore, we won't make any in this space.
But we do know that Polanco was a top-15 prospect in the eyes of MLB.com and Baseball America at the time he was called up, with the book on him being that he could one day be a player with the goods to make an impact on both sides of the ball.
On Friday night, Polanco showed that, yeah, he could indeed be that guy. And it was damn fun to behold.
That his two running mates in Pittsburgh's outfield joined in the fun only made it better.
Batting behind Polanco in the No. 2 spot was left fielder Starling Marte, and he also had a heck of a night. The 25-year-old opened the scoring with a two-run missile to left field in the first inning and eventually finished with four hits of his own.
Batting behind Marte in the No. 3 spot was Andrew McCutchen. He only had two hits in seven at-bats, but those two hits were good enough to continue a personal streak. McCutchen has now collected two hits in six straight games, as well as seven of eight. His average for the month of June is .408.
Add it all up, and it was an 11-for-21 night with six runs and six RBI for the Pirates outfield at the top of the order. Just as the Pirates drew it up.
And there's a notion that doesn't just apply to Friday night's game.
It looks like the Pirates have something special brewing in their outfield. Polanco's a top prospect who looks like he belongs. Marte was a top prospect in his own right not too long ago, and the 12 hits he has in his last 23 at-bats signal that he may be regaining the form that made him a star-level player in 2013.
Well, we know about McCutchen. His own days as one of baseball's top prospects are further in the rear-view mirror, as he's been an All-Star and an MVP since breaking into the league in 2009. And with a .320 average and a .974 OPS in his age-27 season this year, he's making it clear that he's still in the thick of his prime.
It's not a finished product yet. But with Marte in left, McCutchen in center and Polanco in right, the Pirates have the makings of the best homegrown outfield we've seen in recent memory. The three of them are young, athletic and, based on what evidence we have, quite talented.
If this Pirates outfield does indeed reach its explosive potential, maybe we'll look back on Friday's barrage of the Marlins and Polanco's homer in particular as the lighting of the fuse.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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