Clint Hurdle watched rookie Gregory Polanco scuffle for the better part of two weeks before giving the talented but raw right fielder a needed night off on Monday.
The downtime paid immediate dividends.
The 22-year-old smacked a solo home run and delivered a tiebreaking two-run single in the sixth inning, lifting the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 12-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night.
Polanco entered the game hitting .133 since July 5 but smacked a bases-loaded single with two outs in the sixth off Los Angeles reliever Jamey Wright to put Pittsburgh in front for good.
"To fight through an at-bat and drive in a couple of runs opposite field, off gap, it was good to see," Hurdle said.
Neil Walker went 2 for 4 with his 15th homer and three RBI for Pittsburgh. Ike Davis finished with three hits — including his sixth home run — as the Pirates improved to 33-21 at PNC Park, the best home record in the National League.
It’s a place where Polanco figures to be a fixture for the rest of the decade, but he has cooled off following a torrid start. Yet he didn’t panic, and with the game on the line he patiently worked the count full against Wright before sending the ball to left field to score Russell Martin and Davis.
"The thing that’s been impressive with him is he hasn’t changed anything," Walker said of Polanco. "He hasn’t tried to go up there and force the issue and hack away at the first thing he sees. Tonight was one of those nights he trusted his eyes and he trusted himself in a huge spot in a huge game and got a big hit for us."
Vance Worley (3-1) overcame some shaky defense behind him to win for the first time in nearly a month.
Adrian Gonzalez connected for his 15th long ball of the season and finished with three RBI for the Dodgers. Paul Maholm (1-5) took the loss after replacing ineffective starter Josh Beckett, who struggled in his return from a hip injury.
Beckett was in the middle of a late-career renaissance when his left hip flared up in a victory over Colorado on July 8. The rust showed in his return. The Pirates touched the veteran right-hander for four runs in 3 2/3 innings, three of them coming on home runs by Walker, Davis and Polanco. Beckett had allowed just one earned run in his previous 27 innings pitched on the road.
"I was ready the pitch," Beckett said. "The trainers cleared me. The doctors cleared me. I just didn’t pitch well and I put the guys coming in behind in a tough spot because they had to pitch way too many innings."
Maholm gave up consecutive singles leading off the sixth before giving way to Wright, who managed to get two outs before losing control. He walked Gaby Sanchez to load the bases before giving up Polanco’s decisive single. Travis Snider followed with an RBI-single before Wright hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen in the left shoulder. Polanco sprinted home on a wild pitch to make it 8-4, but the comfortable lead quickly disappeared.
Pittsburgh reliever Justin Wilson was ejected when he nailed Los Angeles second baseman Justin Turner leading off the seventh. Hurdle joined Wilson in the clubhouse after getting tossed by third-base umpire Jeff Nelson. Wilson maintained he was just trying to establish the inside part of the plate.
"I was just more surprised there wasn’t a warning given," Wilson said. "Umpire’s decision. Once you’re thrown, you’re thrown."
Gonzalez followed with a lined shot to the seats in right-center to draw the Dodgers to 8-6. Scott Van Slyke pulled Los Angeles within a run in the eighth with the Dodgers’ first pinch-hit homer of the year the Pirates put it away in the bottom of the inning against Perez.
Worley was far more efficient. The play behind him was not. The Dodgers turned Pedro Alvarez’s MLB-leading 22nd error into two runs in the third and scored two more to tie it in the sixth when Josh Harrison — Alvarez’s replacement — threw a ball into the stands to spark a two-run rally as the Dodgers momentarily even.
"It was one of those games where every time we caught them or were going to catch them, they kept pulling away," Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. "Good teams do that and they’re a good team."
Alvarez left the game after the fourth inning due to discomfort in his left knee. … Walker is 10 for his last 17 (.588). … The series wraps up on Wednesday when Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano (1-7, 4.43 ERA) faces Dan Haren (8-7, 4.30).