PITTSBURGH -- Jacob Stallings admitted Monday night that his preparation -- one of many traits he's lauded for -- borders on paranoia. As the third catcher on the Pirates' depth chart, he must be available at a moment's notice. So when the Bucs scratched Francisco Cervelli from Monday's lineup due
PITTSBURGH -- Jacob Stallings admitted Monday night that his preparation -- one of many traits he's lauded for -- borders on paranoia. As the third catcher on the Pirates' depth chart, he must be available at a moment's notice. So when the Bucs scratched Francisco Cervelli from Monday's lineup due to flu-like symptoms, Stallings was ready.
Stallings already had done his homework on the Royals' lineup. He already had thought about his gameplan with starter Joe Musgrove. And when he came up with two on and two outs in the ninth, he already had his approach in mind. Stallings slapped a two-strike curveball from reliever Ben Lively to left field to give the Pirates a 7-6 victory at PNC Park with his second walk-off in 22 career games.
"I just try to be ready for every opportunity. That's the biggest thing for me, just staying ready," Stallings said. "You never know what might happen."
The Pirates have won nine of their past 12 games to climb above .500 for the first time in four weeks. Down two runs entering the eighth, Pittsburgh pulled off its 28th comeback win and sixth walk-off victory. The Bucs owed this one to Stallings.
"He's the hero of the night, having to get called in last minute with Cervy not feeling well," said Musgrove, who gave up four runs in the fifth but still pitched six efficient innings. "He comes to the field ready to play every day, prepares himself better than anybody I've seen -- and it's situations like this that show it."
The Pirates had two of the best catchers in Triple-A this season in Stallings and veteran Ryan Lavarnway. They've also run out one of the Majors' most productive offensive catching duos in Cervelli and Elias Diaz. Their success left few opportunities for Stallings, but he got one on Monday with Cervelli ill and Diaz recovering from a hamstring strain.
Stallings has earned rave reviews from Pittsburgh's pitchers over the past few years, and he's always been highly regarded within the organization for his work behind the plate. Musgrove joined the chorus on Monday, praising Stallings for his communication, awareness, presentation and, of course, preparation.
"He's done a very professional job with everything he's been involved with since he's been here," manager Clint Hurdle said.
After hitting .214 for Indianapolis in 2016, Stallings worked diligently on his two-strike approach. His average jumped to .301 last year and .285 this season in Triple-A -- not bad for a defense-first catcher, anyway. Perhaps it's no coincidence that both of Stallings' big league walk-off hits -- Monday's and the single he hit off Yusmeiro Petit on Sept. 23, 2016 -- came with two strikes.
"It's been huge for me. Honestly, it's something that I go to when I'm not feeling my best, even before two strikes -- just to try to shorten up and take as much timing out of it as I can," Stallings said. "It's been huge for me. It's been a life-saver a lot of times. I'm glad it was again tonight."
Down two with two outs in the eighth, pinch-hitter Jose Osuna reached on an infield single, took second on a wild pitch and scored when Royals first baseman Ryan O'Hearn couldn't glove Hunter Dozier's throw on Pablo Reyes' infield single to third. Reyes scored the tying run on Starling Marte's triple down the right-field line.
The rally that Stallings finished began with two rookies redeeming themselves after missing opportunities earlier. Kevin Kramer came to the plate with two outs and nobody on after striking out in each of his first three at-bats, extending his strikeout streak to eight straight plate appearances. But he worked a five-pitch walk in the ninth, keeping the inning alive for Kevin Newman.
Newman's night began with a throwing error in the first inning, but he bounced back with three hits, including the ninth-inning single that put the winning run in scoring position for Stallings.
"You stay, you play, you keep playing. The game's not going to go away. Things aren't going to get easier," Hurdle said. "I like the way they've both been able to say, 'OK, what can I learn from that? Let's go. Let's make something happen moving forward.'"
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Out goes Frazier: Second baseman Adam Frazier made quite an impact in only four innings, going 2-for-2 with a walk, a run and a two-run double in the fourth before exiting due to right knee discomfort that came about after he fouled a pitch hard off his knee.
Frazier hobbled around the plate in pain but convinced head athletic trainer Bryan Housand he could finish his at-bat. He took one pitch, then turned on a 93.1-mph fastball over the middle of the plate, pulling it over right fielder Jorge Bonifacio for a tiebreaking, two-run double. He legged out the extra base, clearly bothered by the pain in his knee, then asked out of the game. Reyes replaced Frazier as a pinch-runner.
"There's something to be said for adrenaline. We've seen it a number of different ways this year -- when guys get hit with balls or whatever it is, there's some adrenaline that helps you play through," Hurdle said. "There comes a point, too, where you just need to move on. He needed to move on."
O'Hearn hit a solo homer to right off lefty reliever Steven Brault in the eighth inning, becoming the first left-handed hitter to go deep against Brault in the Majors. Brault made his big league debut in 2016 and went 184 plate appearances against lefties without surrendering a home run.
The Pirates are 13-5 in Interleague Play this season, the second-best record in the Majors behind the Red Sox (16-4). Pittsburgh owns a 71-47 Interleague record since 2013.
HE SAID IT
"I'd like to go into the offseason feeling consistent and feeling in complete control of what I'm doing. I'm not going out there trying to work on certain things. I'm trying to compete and I'm going to try to put up 14 zeroes for my next two outings and try to finish on a really strong note." -- Musgrove, on preparing for his final two starts of the season
Right-hander Jameson Taillon (13-9, 3.37 ERA), who has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his past 19 starts, will take the mound for the Pirates as they face the Royals at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at PNC Park. During that stretch, Taillon has completed six innings 14 times. He will face left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-5, 6.19), who was drafted by the Pirates out of high school in 2011 before the Royals selected him in 2014.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.