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PITTSBURGH — Twice, Jacob Stallings stepped to the plate with the chance to change Saturday night’s game against the San Francisco Giants. Twice, the Pirates catcher came through.
The first came in the bottom of the seventh. The Pirates were trailing by four runs entering the inning but unconventionally rallied. A walk, a hit by pitch, a single, another hit by pitch and a wild pitch netted them two runs before Stallings got to the plate, trailing by two with runners on second and third. He doubled to left, scoring Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds to tie it.
It was only the appetizer. Adam Frazier led off the ninth with a single. Two batters later, Reynolds rattled one into the corner in left field. Frazier was sent around third but was thrown out on a clean relay from the outfield. That meant Stallings was up again with two outs and a chance to make the difference. This time, he left the yard.
Stallings caught a fastball in the zone and smoked it over the left field wall to a group of fans losing their minds. He dropped his bat in celebration, Reynolds trotted home and the Pirates came streaming out of the dugout.
It was a swing that put a shiny polish on what was a nearly-frustrating, entirely-gritty win.
It was a game in which the Pirates dropped an easy infield pop-up in the first, allowed three home runs, were thrown out at home on two separate occasions, missed scoring opportunities and had their manager ejected.
Nonetheless, the Pirates (17-22) took their second walk-off win in as many nights, 8-6.
“It was a crazy game,” Stallings said. “Obviously coming off that big win last night, I think that’s probably more pumped up than I usually get, more emotional than I usually get. It’s just that kind of game. A lot of big pitches by our pitchers. Big swings by our guys.”
That gaffe on the first-inning, infield pop-up was immediately costly. Left-hander Tyler Anderson had already allowed a solo home run in the first, but he should have gotten out of the inning after that. Wilmer Flores popped a ball up, just in front of the pitcher’s mound. The routine play caused mass confusion from the Pirates’ infield. Stallings camped under it but misjudged it, allowing it to drop for a single. The next batter, Brandon Crawford, took Anderson deep again to make it 3-0.
Anderson battled from there, giving the Pirates five innings of work while allowing just one more run on an RBI double in the third.
That was a valiant effort, but it still didn’t seem like it would be enough for a majority of the game.
The Pirates had lead-off singles in the third and fourth innings that were immediately erased by double plays. They scored two in the fifth, but pinch-hitter Ka’ai Tom was thrown out attempting to take home on a sacrifice fly, ending the inning. Center fielder Bryan Reynolds looked to have led off the sixth inning with a double but was thrown out trying to take second. In theory, he would have scored on a double from right fielder Gregory Polanco two batters later.
The Giants were taking full advantage of the Pirates’ mistakes and misfortune, tacking on two more runs with a homer from Mike Tauchman in the top of the sixth.
In hindsight, there were key moments in which the Pirates’ pitchers stopped the bleeding. Anderson did it himself through five. Left-hander Chasen Shreve did it in a more important spot in the seventh. He entered with runners on first and second, then walked the first batter he faced to load the bases with one out.
He then got Mauricio Dubon to ground out to third baseman Erik Gonzalez, who quickly tagged the bag for the force out and threw home, catching Darin Ruf in a rundown for the third and final out.
“Probably the two biggest outs of the game, because of the fact that it keeps us at 6-2,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We're able to come back and put up the four spot. Unbelievable job by Chasen.”
Shelton had his own adventure of a game. In the top of the eighth inning, he disagreed strongly with umpire Mark Ripperger’s strike zone and let him know about it. He was thrown out with two outs in the inning.
That means he missed the walkoff in person. Shelton began his postgame press conference by complementing the Pirates’ Low-A Bradenton minor league team, who threw a combined no-hitter on the night, joking that he was kicked out because he wanted to check the box score.
In all seriousness, Shelton found out about the home run from the Pirates’ clubhouse security guards. The television feed was delayed, so he didn’t get the live reaction one might expect.
It’s a funny scenario, and the game was a bizarre one full of twists and turns. In a way, though, it’s emblematic of the Pirates right now.
Shelton was obviously joking, but there are a lot of Pirates fans who are keeping one, if not both eyes on the minor leagues right now. Meanwhile, the major league players, without key contributors like first baseman Colin Moran and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, need weird innings with hit batters and wild pitches to scratch out a tough win.
They haven’t always been successful in that endeavor. On Saturday, they were.
“That's typically how we're going to have to do it,” Stallings said. “I feel like even though we haven't been scoring runs … we've been having pretty good at-bats. We just haven't been, and myself included, we just haven't been hitting the runs in. So, you know, obviously, we need to do a better job of that, but it's good tonight we obviously did do a good job.”