PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have been waiting most of the season for a big hit with runners on base. Matt Joyce delivered one Friday night, but the Bucs' comeback fell short in an 8-4 loss to the Brewers.
Joyce entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning with two runners in scoring position. Brewers right-hander Jimmy Nelson had kept the Pirates at bay all night, as he did most of last season, when Joyce stepped up to the plate.
Having spent his entire career before this season in the American League, Joyce is not a terribly experienced pinch-hitter. He's made 129 pinch-hit plate appearances, a small fraction of his 2,833 career trips to the plate.
But the Pirates pursued Joyce as a free agent this offseason because they liked his left-handed swing, his power and his ability to hit off the bench. Signed as a Minor League free agent at the beginning of Spring Training, Joyce is hitting .273/.500/.636 with more walks (five) than strikeouts (three).
Joyce swung at the first pitch he saw from Nelson, a 94 mph sinker, and launched it into the center-field seats 402 feet away.
"Pinch-hitting's tough, man," Joyce said. "It's not easy to come off the bench and just see one pitch and take a swing. There's obviously some luck involved there. It was nice to square a ball up and put some runs on the board for us."
Joyce's big swing pulled the Pirates within two runs of the Brewers and chased Nelson from the game. A few minutes later, back-to-back doubles from David Freese and Starling Marte made it a one-run game.
"We're going to fight, and we're going to play," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "One of the reasons we acquired Matt Joyce was his ability to strike a ball, strike a ball well, come off the bench and do it. Three-run pinch-hit homers, those aren't easy to do. It gave us a shot in the arm."
The Pirates' rally fell short, and the bullpen surrendered three more runs as the Brewers pulled away again.
But it was a successful moment for Joyce, a much-needed big hit for a team that's struggled to find them this season. The Pirates went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position Friday night and left nine men on base.
Joyce did his part, clearing the bases with the only swing he took Friday night.
"I'm trying to do my best to make the most of my opportunities that I get," Joyce said, "and not look at it as an obstacle, but an opportunity to keep working and keep learning and trying to get better and take advantage of those opportunities."