PITTSBURGH -- Oneil Cruz has already had his fair share of highlights since making his season debut. On Sunday, he added another to his reel -- albeit not the traditional kind -- chasing down the Brewers’ Kolten Wong to end a second-inning pickle.
Wong found himself in no man’s land in the second inning of the Pirates’ 2-0 loss to the Brewers after falling for Michael Perez's fake throw to second. He scrambled back and forth between third and home, desperately trying to avoid being tagged out and ending the inning. But when Perez flicked the ball to Cruz, Wong's chances of reaching any base safely all but vanished. Cruz flagged down Wong, reached out to apply the tag and the inning was over.
“I didn’t really know who it was, I just knew I was in a bad situation there,” Wong said. “I kind of went to plant to go back and my foot slipped. That put me in a bad spot there. I was in no man’s land after that.”
The optics of the spectacle were a sight. The 6-foot-7 Cruz stands an entire foot taller than the 5-foot-7 Wong. Cruz already had his momentum going towards Wong, while Wong had to slam on the brakes and try to reverse course. Wong, for a moment, looked as if he would outrun Cruz, but baseball's tallest shortstop used his equally lengthy wingspan to apply the tag with feet to spare.
“It’s hard not to see him,” said Wong when asked if he knew Cruz was on his tail.
“[He’s] a very large human with very big strides that can run very fast,” said Zach Thompson, who also stands at 6-foot-7. “I thought he was going to give the ball up to [Ke’Bryan Hayes]. Once you see him clasp up the glove a little bit, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s going for it.’ It was like two steps later that he got him. It was cool to see.”
For those in attendance, Cruz’s burst of speed may have evoked memories of Troy Polamalu, who crafted a Hall of Fame career flagging down his opponents on the gridiron. Polamalu’s chasedowns, though, usually ended with a little more force.
There's been no shortage of "wow" moments in Cruz's first few weeks as a big leaguer. There was the 96.7 mph assist that he recorded in his season debut, the hardest-thrown assist by an infielder this season. In that same game, he recorded a sprint speed of 31.5 feet per second (30 feet per second is considered elite) as he scored on a sacrifice fly. All three of his home runs have been spectacles to observe.
The sequence was a fun bit of comedic relief for the Pirates on an afternoon in which they fell to the Brewers, splitting the four-game set. Brandon Woodruff shut down Pittsburgh for the bulk of the contest before handing the ball off to Milwaukee’s dynamic relief trio of Brad Boxberger, Devin Williams and Josh Hader.
“We saw elite pitching,” said manager Derek Shelton. “You saw a guy in the seventh that’s led the league in saves, a guy in the eighth who was Rookie of the Year and a guy in the ninth who’s maybe the best closer in baseball. I think it was a situation where they execute pitches and we couldn’t get a ball to fall.”