Pirates squander 6-0 lead, chance at sweep

July 18th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The second-half opening series between the Pirates and the Mets had been wild from the get-go, but maybe the wildest game of all came in the finale at PNC Park.

At least, the weirdest play happened. Kevin Newman’s swinging bunt that went foul to fair capped a six-run first inning, but like the Mets on Saturday night, the Pirates could not hold on to a six-run lead and fell, 7-6, on Sunday afternoon.

Following the fiery first, it all began to fall apart slowly for Pittsburgh. The Pirates spoiled plenty of opportunities in the final eight innings of the game. JT Brubaker allowed a pinch-hit three-run homer to Travis Blankenhorn. The biggest swing of the game came in the ninth, when Michael Conforto swatted a go-ahead two-run blast off Richard Rodríguez.

“It is frustrating,” manager Derek Shelton said of not being able to complete the Pirates’ first sweep of the season. “I'm happy that we put ourselves in a position to do that playing as well as we did against the team that’s leading the National League East. But to not finish it, especially after being up, it's frustrating.”

The Pirates became the third team this season to blow a lead of six runs or more after one inning, which is the most since 2006 (four such games). What’s crazier? It came one night after the Pirates became the first team this season to erase a six-run deficit entering the eighth inning.

Per the Pirates’ PR staff, it’s the first time in National League history that opposing teams have blown 6-0 leads in consecutive games. After Jacob Stallings’ walk-off grand slam on Saturday night, the Pirates were on the short end on Sunday.

“We played good baseball,” Shelton said. “We had opportunities today to win the game and [sweep] the series. We did not take advantage of those opportunities.”

The one opportunity they did capitalize on sent PNC Park into chaos. Bryan Reynolds hit an RBI single and John Nogowski hit a two-run double before the Pirates loaded the bases against Mets starter Taijuan Walker with only one out.

That brought up Newman, a ground-ball hitter who has one of the lowest average exit velocities in MLB. He chopped a swinging bunt one foot in front of the plate, per Statcast, and it began to roll from foul ground toward the third-base line. When Walker got to the ball to field it, he chose to swat it with his glove.

The only problem? The ball was on the line, and home-plate umpire Jeremy Riggs ruled it fair.

“Ever since college, I was always told don't flip the ball. Don't flip it,” said Brubaker, who was in the on-deck circle. “Just pick it up and see what the umpire's choice is.”

Because Walker didn’t, the runners raced around the bases as he continued to argue with Riggs, and when he finally got to the ball, it was too late as all three runners scored.

“I didn't really know what was going to be the outcome,” Newman said. “I didn't know if that was a play they could review and overturn. I didn't know if they got it right or wrong. I had a terrible view going down the line. I was kind of just standing there like, 'What's gonna happen?'”

That question is one fans at PNC Park likely asked themselves every single game of the series. There was a benches-clearing fracas, a rain delay and two big homers in Game 1. There was the walk-off slam in Game 2. Then, in Game 3, there was the one-foot special followed by a stunning collapse.

The way most of the Pirates summarized the wild weekend: A series win. But it’s not lost on them that this particular series was a uniquely emotional and extraordinary one.

“It was all over the place,” Shelton said. “One of those weekends you'll probably not see very often with some of the things that happened.”