Pirates’ rookie makes the most of first hit
PITTSBURGH — Cole Tucker’s day began with him frantically packing up what he could in his Indianapolis apartment in the middle of the night, grabbing a 5 a.m. flight to Pittsburgh with fellow Pirates call-up Bryan Reynolds and trying not to be overwhelmed by the prospect of his major league debut.
It ended with a 431-foot homer into shrubs beyond the center field fence at PNC Park, an unlikely curtain call, a series of selfies in a downpour, 510 unread text messages (and counting) and a rain-shortened 3-1 Pirates victory over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday that left the 22-year-old both elated and exhausted.
Tucker admitted he didn’t sleep one bit after getting the call around 1 a.m. telling him he was headed to the big leagues after Pittsburgh lost starting shortstop Erik Gonzalez to a broken collarbone following a collision with center fielder Starling Marte on Friday night.
Funny, the rookie didn’t look a bit tired when he turned on a 91 mph sinker from Derek Holland (1-3) and deposited it between the “T” and the “E” in the “Pirates” bush for a two-run shot in the fifth that put Pittsburgh ahead to stay.
The team’s first-round pick in the 2014 draft kept it together until rounding second, when he saw his teammates celebrating in the dugout and the crowd on its feet. He made the “I Love You” sign to his family in the stands and — after some prodding — stepped back onto the field for a curtain call.
Not bad for a self-proclaimed “skinny, not home-run-hitter guy.”
“It was loud man, people were screaming,” Tucker said. “It was really, really cool. I might never do that again in my life. But to say that I did that and for my family to be here to see that and to introduce myself to this city and this club in that fashion is like, storybook.”
An arrival that gave the Pirates a welcome jolt after losing Gonzalez for at least two months and Marte for 10 days and possibly more after they smacked into each other at full speed while trying to track down a fly ball to center field. Marte is dealing with bruises to both his abdomen and right leg, while Gonzalez will have his left arm in a sling indefinitely.
For a day anyway, the NL Central-leading Pirates overcame their absences thanks in part to the kid with the shaggy hair and the palpable joy, the one who became the first Pittsburgh player to homer in his first big league game since Marte did it on July 26, 2012, against Houston.
“I didn’t show up thinking, oh, I’m stressed thinking Marte got hurt or Erik got hurt or what have you,'” Tucker said. “But it definitely felt like we needed a pick-me-up today, losing two of our boys. So it was sweet to go out and do that.”
Reynolds, acquired from the Giants in a January 2018 trade that sent Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco, laced a single off Holland in the fourth for first major league hit. Jung Ho Kang added his third home run and Jameson Taillon (1-2) allowed one run on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts to win for the first time in five starts this season for the Pirates, who have won five straight.
Steven Duggar laced an RBI single off Taillon in the fifth to tie it, but Tucker’s shot off Holland in the bottom of the inning — one pitch after Tucker stepped out of the box because he was startled by a lightning bolt that flashed over the city skyline — was quickly followed by a delay of 3 hours, 8 minutes, before the game was called. The Giants have dropped four straight and five of six.
“If it wasn’t for bad luck, right now we wouldn’t have any,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s how things have been going.”
Holland struck out seven in five innings but Pittsburgh punished his mistakes. Kang crushed a 79 mph breaking ball and sent it well into the seats in left field leading off the fourth. Pablo Reyes started the bottom of the fifth with a walk, moved to second on Taillon’s sacrifice and trotted home on Tucker’s memorable swing.
Asked if he had a problem with Tucker coming out for a curtain call — one Tucker made while Holland was in the middle of striking out Kang — Holland shrugged.
“The kid is living in the moment,” Holland said. “It’s a major league debut and he hit a homer. Good for him. It’s not what I wanted. That’s for sure.”
Pirates: Held 2B Adam Frazier out of the lineup with back spasms. … RHP Jordan Lyles played catch and should be ready for his next start. Lyles took a line drive off his pitching hand against the Giants on Friday.
The weekend series concludes Sunday when Chris Archer (1-0, 2.00 ERA) faces San Francisco’s Dereck Rodriguez (3-3, 3.63).