There used to be a time — any year really between 1993-2012 — when reaching 81 wins would be cause for celebration for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Not anymore. These days the certainty of a non-losing season is nothing more than a speed bump on Pittsburgh’s resilient quest for a playoff berth.
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Gregory Polanco, Neil Walker and Ike Davis all homered and the Pirates beat the Boston Red Sox 9-1 on Wednesday night to maintain their grip on the second National League wild-card spot.
Polanco and Walker hit solo shots off Boston starter Clay Buchholz (8-9) and Davis drilled a three-run blast to center off reliever Steven Wright. The Pirates have won 10 of 12 and improved to a season-high 11 games over .500 (81-70). Pittsburgh moved 2½ games clear of Milwaukee in its race for a second straight postseason bid after the Brewers fell to St. Louis.
"We got some good pitches to hit and didn’t miss them," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Fun to watch those guys work in the box."
Francisco Liriano (6-10) won his third straight decision, allowing one run in six innings. The left-hander worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and has now given up two runs or less in 11 of his 12 starts since the All-Star break, looking like the pitcher who won 16 games in 2013 than the one that struggled with his command and his health during a rocky first half to 2014.
"It was a battle for me today, just trying to execute pitches, make good pitches," Liriano said. "I got a couple little plays and just a tough night location-wise but I’ll take it."
Boston rookie centerfielder Rusney Castillo went 1 for 4 in his major-league debut. The Cuban defector signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox last month. Boston has lost three of four.
"Obviously I’d like a better outcome in terms of winning the game," Castillo said. "But I was pretty satisfied with my overall approach and the way I stepped in today."
Castillo’s arrival in the Red Sox clubhouse on Wednesday afternoon ended a quick tour of the team’s minor-league system. He made stops at three different levels before coming up to Boston to stay.
While manager John Farrell stressed the final games of an otherwise lost season are simply a chance for Castillo to "get acclimated" to life in the big leagues, the 27-year-old believes it won’t take long for him to get up to speed. He provided a brief glimpse of what’s to come in the fourth when he ripped a sharp grounder to second that Walker couldn’t handle for his first major-league hit.
"I’ll sign it and keep it in my house somewhere," Castillo said with a smile.
While Castillo is a part of Boston’s long-term future, the present belongs to the Pirates.
Polanco wasted little time drumming Buchholz, who hadn’t given up a homer in his last 36 innings. There was no chance to make it 37 after Polanco drilled a Buchholz fastball into the seats in right for his seventh homer of the season and first since Aug. 10.
The lead ballooned to 4-0 in the second behind a two-run double by Clint Barmes. Walker golfed a Buchholz pitch into the first row of seats in right for his 21st homer of the season in the third, extending his record for most home runs in a season by a Pittsburgh second baseman.
Red Sox: 2B Brock Holt, out with a concussion since Aug. 25, is scheduled to meet with concussion specialist Micky Collins on Thursday. Farrell said Holt is doing daily vision exercises and running on a treadmill but has not started baseball related activities.
Pirates: RHP Charlie Morton reported no issues a day after pitching five shutout innings in his first start in a month due to a hernia issue. Manager Clint Hurdle said he’s still hasn’t made a decision on who will start when Morton’s turn in the rotation comes up again on Sunday against Milwaukee.
Red Sox: Brandon Workman (1-9) will try to end a nine-game losing streak when he makes his 15th start of the season. Workman’s only victory of the season came on June 10 against Baltimore. His ERA is a season-high 5.27 after giving up five earned runs in three innings of a 10-6 loss to Baltimore last week.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole (9-5) goes for his third straight victory. The 24-year-old struck out six and walked one while working six innings in a 7-3 victory over Chicago in his previous start.