On precipice of history, McCutchen focused on present

Cutch hits 299th career home run, his fourth HR off longtime rival Wainwright

August 23rd, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen would like to remain present. Very present.

McCutchen inched one step closer to history on Tuesday, hitting the 299th home run of his career against longtime opponent Adam Wainwright. McCutchen -- who recorded his 2,000th hit in June -- has another opportunity to reach a big round number, but following the Pirates’ 6-3 win over the Cardinals at PNC Park, McCutchen wasn’t jumping at the opportunity to talk about what might happen.

“I don't wanna talk about it,” McCutchen laughed. “June 30. June 30! I couldn't hit a home run for a very long time. That homestand, I needed one hit to get 2,000, it took me [almost] 10 games. I don't wanna talk about it. We'll talk about it whenever it happens.”

Why so much apprehension? The last couple months can explain. 

In early June, McCutchen entered the Pirates’ long homestand needing five hits to reach 2,000, a milestone he wanted to achieve in Pittsburgh. After collecting two hits in the first game of the homestand, it took the rest of the homestand for him to collect those last three hits. For all the opportunities that McCutchen possessed, he described the waiting as “horrible.” 

On the aforementioned June 30, one of the days in which Anthrocon was going on, McCutchen hit his 10th home run of the season and the 297th of his career. With over three months of the season remaining and McCutchen at his most productive in years, his 300th career home run felt like an inevitability. McCutchen proceeded to go a month and a half without clearing the fences.

On July 5, McCutchen landed awkwardly on his right elbow, which had been giving him trouble since Spring Training. It wasn’t long before he landed on the injured list. 

From July 16 (his first game off the IL) to Aug. 16, McCutchen had a .192 batting average and a .231 slugging percentage. He still reached base at a fine clip (.357 on-base percentage), but the total offensive production (.588 OPS) lagged. In the first half, McCutchen hit .268/.383/.425 with 10 home runs.

McCutchen’s desire to remain present, then, makes sense. 

Over the past four days, McCutchen has shown a glimpse of that first-half form. On Saturday, he had a season-high five RBIs and hit the 298th home run of his career, a 438-foot blast that snapped McCutchen’s home run drought. After going hitless on Sunday, he collected two singles on Monday, the first being a 105.8 mph grounder and the second being a 47.9 mph grounder. McCutchen has had two multi-hit performances in his past four games.

“It feels good,” McCutchen said. “I've been dealing with a bum elbow all year. I've been competing every single day in and out. I've been grinding every day, man. I haven't felt that great, like myself, for most of the season. I go in and out, up and down, more bad days than good days. But, I'm just gonna try and show up and compete. If I can swing the bat, I'm gonna swing. I wish that I wasn't dealing with that, because I wanna feel really good physically. It's just the way that it goes, man. I just take life as it comes and try to do my best.”

Manager Derek Shelton described McCutchen’s last two home runs as “the best two he’s hit all season.” McCutchen, however, was quick to retort. 

“Bullcrap,” McCutchen said. “I got better ones than that one tonight. Come on. Damn, man, is he watching the game?”

While Shelton has seen just about every plate appearance McCutchen has had this season, no one at PNC Park on Tuesday has seen McCutchen as much as Wainwright. For all of Wainwright’s domination of the Pirates in his career, McCutchen owns a career .325 batting average and has driven in 15 runs against the longtime Cardinal, four home runs included. 

“I have nothing but respect for that guy,” McCutchen said. “He's done it longer than I have. He's a competitor. He's gonna compete every single time. No matter how many times we faced each other, he's been trying to give me his best stuff, I'm gonna try and return the favor as well.”

Said Wainwright, “I either make really good pitches to him or really horrible pitches, and there’s no in between. And the last few years, I’ve made a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate to him, and he’s hurt me. But he’s a great competitor. He’s been a champion-type player for a long time, and it’s been an honor to battle against him.”