PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t expected to contend in the strong NL Central this season, especially after trading stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole in January.
Yet the Pirates are on top of a division in which four of the five teams are at least four games over .500.
Gregory Polanco led off the seventh inning with a double and scored the go-ahead run on an error, leading the Pirates over the San Diego Padres 5-4 Thursday night for their eighth win in nine games.
Polanco took third on Francisco Cervelli’s deep flyball, then came home when rookie third baseman Christian Villanueva misplayed Corey Dickerson’s two-out grounder.
Pittsburgh (26-17) moved nine games over .500.
“You really can’t predict baseball,” Dickerson said. “Every year you have teams that have good seasons when they aren’t expected to, players who no one knows about who end up having big years. You just never know in this game. We’re playing very well, and we feel like we have a very good team.”
Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell and Sean Rodriguez each had two hits.
Eric Hosmer drove in three runs for San Diego. Freddy Galvis had two hits before being ejected by home plate umpire Will Little after taking a called third strike from Michael Feliz to end the eighth inning.
Rookie Edgar Santana (2-0) retired the only batter he faced, getting Jose Pirela to ground out to end the seventh with a runner on second. He was credited with another win a day after notching his first major league victory against the Chicago White Sox.
“It’s fun to get a chance to pitch in those situations,” Santana said. “The hitters are up looking for RBIs and you know they are going to try a little extra hard to drive in the run. I try to use that to my advantage and stay calm.”
Felipe Vazquez worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his ninth save in as many opportunities.
Matt Strahm (0-1) took the loss.
“He did everything he had to do to get the groundball to get out of that inning,” San Diego manager Andy Green. “We didn’t make the play for him there.”
Both starters were chased in the fifth inning as Padres rookie left-hander Eric Lauer and Chad Kuhl allowed four runs and six hits each.
“I had some trouble pitching out of the stretch and that hurt me,” Kuhl said.
The Pirates tied the score at 4 on Bell’s RBI single in the fifth. Hosmer hit a two-run double in the top of the inning.
The Padres opened the scoring with a two-run third as Travis Jankowski hit an RBI single and Hosmer drove into a run with a grounder.
The Pirates answered with three runs in the fourth. Dickerson doubled in a run, David Freese hit a sacrifice fly and Rodriguez capped the inning with an RBI double.
“Things were going smooth then all of a sudden I wouldn’t say I lost it, but I started making worse pitches,” Lauer said. “Just missing spots by a little bit.”
MEADOWS ON THE WAY
The Pirates plan to recall top outfield prospect Austin Meadows from Triple-A Indianapolis in time for Friday night’s game. The announcement came while center fielder Starling Marte missed his second straight game with a strained right oblique.
Meadows, 23, is hitting .281 with one home run, 15 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 31 games. The Pirates selected him in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft with the ninth overall pick from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia.
Pirates: While Marte was out of the lineup, Cervelli (bruised right forearm) returned after sitting out Wednesday and the catcher went 0 for 2 with two walks. … RHP Joe Musgrove (strained right shoulder) is scheduled to make his last rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. … 2B Josh Harrison (broken left hand) is 1 for 8 in his first two rehab games with Double-A Altoona.
Padres: OF Hunter Renfroe (right elbow inflammation) began a rehab assignment Thursday with Triple-A El Paso. He has been out since April 18. … LHP Joey Lucchesi (strained right hip) played catch and the Padres are hopeful he will miss only one start. . C Austin Hedges (right elbow tendinitis) has been serving as a designated hitter in extended spring training games but not been cleared to throw.
Padres: RHP Tyson Ross (2-3, 3.40 ERA) is 0-2 in his last five starts despite a 3.34 ERA.
Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (2-5, 5.01) is 0-2 with a 10.22 ERA in his past three starts, pitching a combined 12 1/3 innings.