'You always have hope': Bucs overcome 4-run deficit, walk off in 10th

May 22nd, 2024

PITTSBURGH – Being a closer in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth is a bit of a tightrope walk. With the Pirates down four in the final frame, the odds was going to be needed that night were pretty low, but he has to be ready to get loose, just in case.

“I think you always have hope,” said Bednar. “You are always pulling for your guys, obviously. It’s just kind of reading the situation, knowing when it’s that time or when to save some bullets or when it’s go-time.”

Tuesday was a day to use those bullets. The Pirates erased a four-run deficit in the ninth inning, Bednar tossed a scoreless top of the 10th and Nick Gonzales played the hero with a walk-off single to send the PNC Park faithful home happy after a 7-6 win over the Giants.

It’s the first time the Pirates have come back to win after being down at least four runs in the ninth since July 12, 2008, against the Cardinals, and it was a game of redemption. For an infielder who made a key error early. For a pair of infielders who didn’t make the Opening Day team. For a closer who is just recently starting to pitch to his lofty expectations.

"They just battled throughout the whole thing,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We're talking about one of the elite closers in the game, and we just had quality at-bat after quality at-bat. … We grinded through every at-bat. Very proud of them."

Starter Martín Pérez was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing four runs on the day, though two of those were unearned after Oneil Cruz dropped a fly ball in shallow left field in the first. The Pirates would play from behind all the way to the ninth, when they finally strung together some quality at-bats to load the bases.

There, Ji Hwan Bae -- who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis earlier in the day -- rolled a bases loaded single to right to move everyone up a station, bring home a run and turn the lineup over. Down 6-3 against Camilo Doval, who had not blown a save this season, Andrew McCutchen and Bryan Reynolds both hit balls to rookie shortstop Marco Luciano, who flubbed McCutchen’s bouncer and couldn’t get the double play on Reynolds’.

Then, Cruz redeemed his earlier error with a double to right field that left the bat at 121.5 mph. It was one of three balls he tattooed Tuesday, and the hardest-hit ball across baseball this season.

“It really helps, just to see my teammates do what they did,” said Cruz, via interpreter and Major League coach Stephen Morales. “It kept me really into the game and one thing in mind: To either get a hit to win the game or tie the game.”

Bednar has been shakier than usual to start the year, but made quick work of the Giants in the 10th, not allowing the automatic runner to score in a 1-2-3 frame. That included getting Patrick Bailey -- who hit a three-run walk-off homer against Bednar when the Pirates went to the Bay last month -- to fly out to end the inning.

The two-time All-Star has looked a lot more like his old self since that West Coast trip, something that he attributes to just better command.

“Huge momentum,” Bednar said. “You want to always put up a zero, but especially then. Just keep the momentum, it was awesome to get that win. That was a big one for us.”

In the home half of the extra frame, Gonzales rolled Erik Miller’s first-pitch changeup up the middle to score Connor Joe and win it. Gonzales is up to nine RBIs and a .282 batting average in his 11 games since being recalled from Indianapolis.

“It's extremely rewarding,” Shelton said. “Here's a guy that we sat down at the end of Spring Training and told him he wasn't going to make the club, and his first comment was, 'What do I need to do? How do I need to do it?' ... To be able to ask that question in a send-down meeting in Bradenton and then take it, go to Indy and do that, I think that's something that stands out about the character of the kid."

It was a true comeback win. Time will tell if that win will generate some momentum.

“Obviously any win is really important,” Gonzales said, “but when we're down four in the ninth with one out and pull it off, it's special.”