From .030 xBA to walk-off slam for Stallings

Backstop delivers his third game-ending hit of 2021 to stun Mets

July 18th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- When does a pattern start to become a trend?

Just ask Jacob Stallings, who continues to provide clutch heroics for the Pirates this season.

Improbably, and with a season-high attendance of 27,222, the Pirates found a way to make it three straight wins vs. the Mets as Jacob Stallings slammed his way to his third walk-off hit this year -- a grand slam to cap a 9-7 victory over New York on Saturday at PNC Park.

Stallings wasted no time with his opportunity, which came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Pirates’ catcher swung first pitch on an inside 97.8 mph fastball from Mets closer Edwin Díaz, who pointed to the sky to signal it was a potential flyout for left fielder Kevin Pillar to grab.

"I couldn't believe it when it cleared the fence,” Díaz said. “I thought it was a fly ball. It kept carrying, [and] he got the homer."

If you judged the drive by Statcast numbers, you may have thought the same thing: An expected batting average of .030 on the projected 346-foot hit pulled toward the left-field foul pole. Pillar apparently thought he had a chance to make a play on it, too, as he straddled the wall before he tumbled over. Yet, he ended up a few yards from where the ball was deposited, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Even Stallings didn’t know it would clear the deck.

“I definitely did not know that I had it. I didn't even really run when I hit it,” Stallings said. “I figured he was either going to catch it or it was going to be a home run, so I figured I might as well just stand there and watch and see what happened.”

What’s arguably crazier than the slam itself? The Pirates were down 6-0 after seven innings, and the offense was showing few signs of situational hitting despite having some key opportunities to scratch back early on.

The team struck for five runs off setup man Seth Lugo in the eighth inning, which came in large part thanks to Wilmer Difo’s pinch-hit three-run homer -- his second swat in as many days.

“Wilmer is the epitome of an energy-giver every single day,” Stallings said. “I was kind of giving him a hard time today because he hit that home run yesterday. I was like, 'Hey, be the same guy. Don't start talking a lot today just because you hit a home run yesterday. Be the same guy.’ He just brings tremendous energy and really is invaluable to our team.”

Stallings has been invaluable, too, especially with the game on the line this season. In the midst of the best offensive season of his career, he also slugged a walk-off homer vs. the Giants on May 15 and lined a walk-off single to beat the Marlins on June 5.

It was also his sixth career walk-off hit. That ties him for the team lead with Kevin Newman, who became a ninth-inning hero many times during the 2019 season.

“It’s Even Stevens,” Stallings said. “Hopefully, he hits one tomorrow, takes it back.”

It’s bigger than his personal stats, though. The Saturday slam was the third walk-off grand slam in PNC Park history, and it was the 10th in franchise history. And it puts the Pirates in a position to take five of seven games from the National League East-leading Mets in the past week-plus, and to find their first sweep of the season.

After being banged up to end the first half, alternating between starting and sitting, Stallings is happy to be out on the field consistently and competing at a high level, and he got his moment Saturday.

The Pirates’ biggest “team player” was even treated like royalty as he capped his incredible moment: Third-base coach Joey Cora bowed to Stallings as he rounded and headed home.

“It’s the only time I get emotional, really, and I don’t know why,” Stallings said of the celebration. “I just love seeing teammates cheer one another in those moments.

“That was pretty cool. Certainly, one I'll remember.”