PITTSBURGH -- The first thing Jordan Luplow thought of as he rounded the bases Saturday night, he said, was his grandfather, "Papa" John Luplow. This season, Luplow started wearing John's chain, the gold links you might have seen bouncing and shining around Luplow's neck after his first Major League home
PITTSBURGH -- The first thing Jordan Luplow thought of as he rounded the bases Saturday night, he said, was his grandfather, "Papa" John Luplow. This season, Luplow started wearing John's chain, the gold links you might have seen bouncing and shining around Luplow's neck after his first Major League home run.
"A little piece of him with me," he said.
John passed away following an accident during Luplow's senior year of high school. Luplow figured his grandfather, a major influence on his life, would have enjoyed seeing him in the eighth inning Saturday night at PNC Park. Luplow's first Major League homer, a three-run shot, helped push the Pirates past the Reds, 5-0.
"Just him looking down on me," Luplow said, "knowing how proud he would be."
This time last year, Luplow was finishing up a solid season in the Florida State League. But his coaches and teammates knew a night like Saturday would come eventually. The 23-year-old, a former third-round Draft pick who shared a college clubhouse with Aaron Judge, batted .302 with a .907 OPS and hit 23 home runs in the Minors this season.
"He's hit the ball all year long," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "So we felt it was a matter of time until he started hitting it here."
Luplow's debut season began quietly. He wasn't invited to big league Spring Training, but he was called over from Minor League camp for eight at-bats in the Grapefruit League; in one of them, he doubled off American League Cy Young Award candidate Chris Sale. He began the year in Double-A and found himself in the big leagues in July despite only 21 games of Triple-A experience.
Promoted to fill a need in the Pirates' injury-riddled outfield, Luplow started off 0-for-12 with a walk in the Majors. He received a rare start in right field against the Reds on Saturday, and nobody possessed more confidence in him than Pittsburgh's starting pitcher.
Shortly after arriving at the ballpark Saturday afternoon, Jameson Taillon told Luplow that this would be the night. He could feel Luplow's first hit was coming. And it did.
With two outs in the second inning, Luplow reached on an infield single. The Pirates secured the ball, which will soon find safe keeping with Luplow's mother, Becky.
"A hit's a hit," Luplow said. "It felt like the world was off my shoulders."
After Luplow struck out to end the sixth, Taillon shared another prediction with Luplow: "Hey, your home run's going to have to wait until your next AB." And it did.
With two on and one out in the eighth, Luplow swung at the first pitch he saw from Wandy Peralta, a 97.1-mph fastball. The ball came off his bat at 101.2 mph, according to Statcast™, as Luplow bashed it to the deepest part of PNC Park's outfield.
"I was really excited for him. I think everybody was," Taillon said. "I felt good about calling that. We had confidence in him."
At the end of the night, Luplow's teammates approached him during an on-field television interview and emptied a pair of coolers on the rookie. It's a typical celebration for the Pirates, but it might have been a little more unpleasant than usual on this damp, chilly Saturday night. It didn't bother Luplow at all.
"Awesome," Luplow said. "Just getting to hang around these guys and learn from them, pick their brains and see how they work on a day-to-day basis, it's been pretty cool."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.