So Taillon went back out, pitching in the ninth inning for the first time in his professional career, to finish what he started. The emerging ace of Pittsburgh's rotation completed a one-hit shutout of the Reds in the Pirates' 5-0 victory at PNC Park.
"It felt good. I felt strong," Taillon said. "I train hard so I can pitch in the ninth."
The lone hit off Taillon came from Reds starter Tyler Mahle. He struck out seven, walked two and hit a batter. Taillon threw 110 pitches in the Pirates' first complete-game performance since Ivan Nova shut out the Marlins last April 29. It was the Bucs' first individual one-hitter since A.J. Burnett twirled a shutout against the Cubs on July 31, 2012.
Taillon also drove in Pittsburgh's first run with a single to right field off Mahle. That would have been enough, although Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson provided breathing room with a pair of home runs in the fifth inning. The Reds only moved one runner to second base: Cliff Pennington, who walked with two outs in the ninth and took second base on defensive indifference.
"He knows he's got good stuff, but he's got more experience, and he's a smart guy," catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "It's amazing. This guy, he's special, man."
Taillon made an impressive debut in 2016, posting a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts. During his best stretches, he joked late last year, he felt like he would "go blank" on the mound, look up at the scoreboard and find he'd worked six innings on 75 pitches. After an up-and-down season interrupted by the diagnosis and successful treatment of testicular cancer, Taillon worked to streamline his delivery. He wanted to regain the fastball command that allowed him to thrive two years ago.
"I felt like I probably didn't do that all year last year, where I was just getting ground balls on two pitches or less," Taillon said.
But on Sunday, he was at his efficient best.
The 26-year-old right-hander cruised through six innings on 64 pitches. Even when he fell behind in counts, he and Cervelli knew a well-placed two-seamer -- which averaged 94 mph on Sunday, according to Statcast™ -- would quickly induce weak contact. Taillon relied almost exclusively on his fastball, throwing 80 on the day.
"That's unhittable. When you throw it down like that, you've just got to keep calling it," Cervelli said. "That's the way I do things. Whatever I see, I go with that."
Before Sunday's series finale, Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington echoed one concern with the performance of their young starting rotation: They need to start pitching deeper into games. They'd only had one starter complete six innings, but Taillon didn't wait long to make it two.
"He was sharp. He was focused. He was committed, man," Hurdle said. "He had thoughts way past the sixth inning. It played out well. Sharp. Crisp. On the attack."
The Pirates have won seven of their first nine games to begin the season for the first time since 1993, when they also jumped out to a 7-2 start. They have played through rain, snow and freezing cold -- Sunday's first-pitch temperature was 35 degrees -- but they will face their toughest test yet on Monday afternoon, when they are set to begin a three-game series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"I don't think we could ask for a better start. We just keep putting our heads down and keep playing," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "I think we're having a lot of fun. That's the most important thing. We're having fun, enjoying each other and playing good ball."
Nobody expected much out of the Pirates this season, not after they traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, who both served starring roles for their new clubs on Saturday night. But Taillon's performance on Sunday was a reminder of what remains in Pittsburgh's clubhouse: untapped potential and a drive to outperform expectations.
"It's obviously only nine games," Taillon said, "but I'm glad we came out and made a statement to start the year."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hot Coffee: After sitting out Saturday night with a swollen right foot, Polanco made it clear Sunday morning: When he can play, he will. He felt healthy enough to start on Sunday, and he showed in the fifth inning that his day down didn't cool his hot start. Polanco crushed a two-run homer, his third of the season, into the right-field seats off Mahle to give the Pirates a three-run lead. That increased Polanco's Major League-leading RBI total to 13.
"We're playing good baseball. We've got to keep it like that," Polanco said. "We've got to keep, as a family, working together, fighting together, and we're going to have a good season." More >
Big swing: After a rough opening series, Dickerson settled in at the plate during the Pirates' six-game homestand. He punctuated a strong series, and a four-run fifth inning, by blasting his first Pirates home run into the right-field seats. The 106.5-mph blast traveled a projected 398 feet, according to Statcast™. Over the last five games, Dickerson has gone 9-for-20 with a homer, triple, four doubles and six RBIs.
QUOTABLE "He told me I'd have another chance one day. He was good to his word, and this was my chance."--Taillon, on getting to pitch the ninth. He threw eight innings three times in 2016, and Hurdle often told him he'd eventually get his chance to finish the game
"He knows he's the guy. He knows we're going to rely on him a bunch this year. We're going to have to. He picked us up today. It was huge for him throwing that CG and giving the bullpen guys a break, a break from 6-7-8-9. That was key today."--Mercer, on Taillon
"Just dominant. Pounding the strike zone, getting ahead of the hitters. It's really easy to play behind that. You're always engaged in the game. It showed today. Guys were making great plays on the field behind him. He worked hard. He's got great stuff."--Dickerson, on Taillon
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS • Taillon's gem was the Pirates' third one-hit shutout since 1995, joining Burnett's start against the Cubs and Todd Ritchie's 87-pitch performance against the Royals on July 13, 2001.
• It took Polanco until May 28 to hit his third home run last season, and he did not record his 13th RBI until June 3.
• The Pirates scored 58 runs over their first nine games. Last year, their 58th run of the season came on April 23, in their 17th game.
WHAT'S NEXT Nova will start for the Pirates as they begin a three-game series against the Cubs, who will play their home opener Monday at Wrigley Field. Nova pitched five effective innings, struggled in a snowy sixth and lost on Wednesday. Monday's first pitch is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. ET.