‘Watch and learn’: Pirates play under pressure against baseball’s best team
Before the Pittsburgh Pirates played baseball’s best team, Derek Shelton talked about how much his rookie-laden club could learn from watching the New York Yankees.
The Pirates manager played in the Yankees’ minor league system, so he knows something about their tradition and pursuit of excellence and hoped the two-game interleague series might rub off on his team.
“When you have a young group of players, it’s really important for them to see what the really good teams look like,” Shelton said. “It’s important for them to watch and learn. When you play against very good teams when you have a young squad, it’s really important for them to see how these other teams are doing.
Shelton then watched and learned something about the Pirates, mainly that they don’t back down against the best teams in baseball. After winning five of six games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, including a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium for the first time in two decades, the Pirates toppled the mighty Yankees.
Tuesday night’s 5-2 win over the Yankees was played in front of a crowd of 37,733, the first sold-out crowd of the season at PNC Park, in an atmosphere many young Pirates players hadn’t experienced at residence.
“It was an awesome environment, just to fill that spot,” said Pirates rookie outfielder Jack Suwinski, who hit a two-run homer to bring his NL-leading total to 14. “Ton of energy , a lot of crowd noise. I think that really helped a bit. That’s kind of how you feel. Yeah, it really gives you adrenaline, kinda gets your blood pumping. You kind of have to balance that out a bit.
Although Shelton enjoyed the atmosphere, especially David Bednar’s rendition of the song “Renegade” in the ninth inning, he insisted the Pirates won because of their attention to detail.
They got a strong pitching performance from veteran left-hander Jose Quintana, who gave up one run on six hits and no walks against a heavy right roster that leads the majors in homers, runs scored, RBIs and walks. . They hit well-timed against former Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon, who was 9-1 with a 3.32 ERA but gave up total homers to designated hitters Daniel Vogelbach and Suwinski to find themselves in a four point hole.
The Pirates also had two hits apiece from first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo and right fielder Ben Gamel in their opener after spending the past five weeks on the disabled list. And they got a pair of big defensive plays that saved scoring, as center fielder Bryan Reynolds took a dive with two runners in the scoring position and rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz helped turn a double play to get out of a jam.
These plays, Vogelbach pointed out, make the difference in winning close games. The Pirates are 21-25 in games decided by two runs or less, including 5-15 in such games over the past month.
“I think no matter how long you play this game or how long you’re in the big leagues, I think you’re learning every day,” Pirates designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach said. “The game teaches you as you go. You talk to guys all over the league who did everything you could do in this league and they’re still learning every day. So I think the most important thing is that we accept the learning curve and when the game teaches us something, to take it and run with it.
Quintana, an 11-year veteran who has playoff experience with the Chicago Cubs, showed leadership through his performance but also soaked up the experience of pitching in front of a packed house against a team that has won 58 of its first 80 games this season.
“I think this series is really good for the team, against one of the best teams in baseball right now,” Quintana said. “It’s really cool. It was really loud. I liked that. It’s really special for us, and to get a W against this huge team is really impressive for us.