'Wouldn't want to do it any other place': McCutchen hits homer No. 300

April 14th, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- was able to recover from the Achilles injury that cost him the last part of 2023, but a shortened season meant there was one number still looming heading into this season.

Two hundred and ninety nine career homers. One away from one of those big round-number milestones McCutchen isn’t a fan of talking about, but are inevitable after a long, fruitful Major League career.

"I don't like that,” McCutchen said. “It's by far the thing I don't want to talk about. I don't even want to know about it. I won't turn on MLB Network because I don't want to see it on the ticker. I'm that type of person. I don't even look at the schedule. I don't know what time the games are, I don't know who's on the mound. I just know we're going to New York playing the Mets. That's just the way that I treat things, because I just try to be where my feet are.”

In the ninth inning on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, McCutchen finally put an end to the chase. He got hold of a Ricardo Pinto slider up and deposited it into the seats in left. Home run No. 1 of the season, home run No. 300 in his 16-year career, as the Pirates beat the Phillies 9-2.

While McCutchen downplayed the importance of the homer, his teammates were a bit more enthusiastic, greeting him with high fives and a strobe light show as he entered the clubhouse.

“Seeing Cutch do that, it was pretty special,” said Jack Suwinski, who hit the go-ahead grand slam off Zack Wheeler in the sixth. “I think everyone was pumped to be a part of it.”

“Selfishly, I wish I was in the dugout for it,” said Mitch Keller. “Just couldn’t be happier for him. I know it’s been a long time coming since last year. Finally to just be able to do it now, the weight’s off his shoulders.”

“I know it's been weighing on him,” said manager Derek Shelton. “... If you saw the reaction in our dugout, just how much he means to our group that they were so excited for him.”

It’s a chance to exhale, even if it is only until he shows up to work tomorrow. It also looked like the type of swing McCutchen had been searching for early this season. The Pirates planned to be cautious with him in Spring Training as he returned from the injury, but he never got to get into a flow game-wise. He caught a flu bug that went around the clubhouse that caused him to miss some time. He and his wife Maria Hanslovan welcomed their fourth child in March too, so that was more time away from the team.

That probably contributed to a slower start when he entered play on Sunday with a .161 batting average and .542 OPS over his first eight games. Perhaps that first homer can help him get on track.

“Anytime you’re right at a milestone, and again he had an abrupt spring training going back and forth, but even for great players like him, it’s probably like, ‘Alright, now I can breathe a little bit,’” Shelton said.

And if he couldn’t hit the milestone in Pittsburgh, well, at least he did it in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. McCutchen is the rare athlete who is liked on both sides of the state, having played in Philadelphia from 2019-21, and even got a nice reception from the Phillies crowd in his first at-bat of the series.

But if he can’t do it at home, he at least had the right uniform on for the milestone homer, the same way it was for Nos. 100 and 200.

“If you would have told me to do it [play your whole career] only in a Pirates uniform, I would have done it,” McCutchen said. “But you go through things, you go different places, you learn new stuff. To be able to continue and do it here, it means a lot. Wouldn't want to do it any other place.”

Better yet, it also means that he doesn’t have to hear about the chase for No. 300 anymore. It’s onto tomorrow.

“When it happens, it happens, and then it will be here and then it'll be gone,” McCutchen said on his mindset when people asked about it. “It's like a burp in the wind. It's here. It happened. Tomorrow we show up ready to go against the Mets against whoever's on the mound."