Cutch not only hit a jack, he honored Jackie

April 15th, 2017

CHICAGO -- After every home run, steps on home plate and reaches up with his right hand to tip his cap. It's a tribute to his wife, but also to the man who broke baseball's color barrier.

The gesture is specifically to acknowledge his wife, Maria, but McCutchen picked it up from Jackie Robinson -- the version of Robinson depicted in the movie "42," at least. McCutchen watched Robinson tip his cap toward his wife, Rachel, after homering in the film and decided he would do the same.

On Saturday, McCutchen rounded the bases and tipped his cap, as he always does. But for the first time, he did it while wearing Robinson's No. 42. McCutchen crushed a go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh inning of the Pirates' 8-7 win over the Cubs on Jackie Robinson Day.

"It's something that means a lot and something I'm going to remember, definitely," McCutchen said.

It was McCutchen's first home run on the day dedicated annually throughout Major League Baseball to Robinson's career and legacy. Before the game, McCutchen tweeted: "Though you weren't treated with the same equality as others, you showed if we all work 2gether, greatness happens!"

Last season, McCutchen was 1-for-5 on April 15. The year before, he went 1-for-4. On Saturday, he finished 1-for-4 -- but his one hit led the Bucs to a thrilling comeback victory.

"My numbers aren't really that great on Jackie Robinson Day. They're not. I don't know why," McCutchen said. "I don't know if I put added pressure on myself just because. It was great to be able to do it like that, in that fashion, the way I did it, it was awesome to get a three-run homer and take the lead."

The homer, McCutchen's second of the season and the 177th of his career, was significant for personal reasons and within the context of Saturday's game. The Pirates climbed out of a four-run hole at blustery Wrigley Field, and McCutchen's blast off punctuated the Bucs' five-run seventh.

"It's nice to see one go his way," Josh Harrison said. "When it goes his way, it goes our way."

McCutchen expected a heavy dose of sliders from Strop. He swung and missed at a fastball, whiffed at one slider then said to himself, "Got to lock in." McCutchen took two more sliders to even the count, 2-2. Strop's fifth pitch was also a slider, 82.7 mph down and in, but just high enough for McCutchen to swat it over the left-field fence.

"Andrew put a pretty swing on it," manager Clint Hurdle said. "To be in that situation and to have the ability to go ahead and put that swing on a pitch right there, it's why he's one of the elite players in the league."

The hit pulled McCutchen ahead of Barry Bonds on Pittsburgh's all-time home run list. Only Hall of Famers Willie Stargell (475), Ralph Kiner (301) and Roberto Clemente (240) have hit more homers for the Pirates.

On a smaller scale, McCutchen doubled his 2017 RBIs total with one swing. It has been an up-and-down start for McCutchen and the Pirates, both looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2016. But perhaps the franchise player's seventh-inning swing is a sign of good things to come.

"I don't think too much into it. You're going to have your ups, have your downs, have good games, have bad games," McCutchen said. "I'm just battling right now, getting my hits here and there and it's a matter of time before I get real hot."