Bucs' comeback caps historic 4-0 road start

March 31st, 2024

MIAMI -- pointed his finger to the sky, then turned to loanDepot park’s visitors' dugout and let out a roar while rounding first.

Tellez doesn’t normally show much emotion on the field, but after what he called three “frustrating” early at-bats, his first home run with the Pirates -- a soaring Statcast-projected 425-foot knock to center -- came at the perfect time, erasing the 5-0 deficit they had fallen into before getting an out in the first inning.

Fast forward to the 10th, and it was small ball that won it. Jason Delay put down a safety squeeze up the first-base line to plate Oneil Cruz and give the Bucs the lead for good, beating the Marlins, 9-7, to complete the sweep on Sunday.

For a team that came into the season vocal that their goal was to compete and play in October, it’s hard to come up with a better opening statement than a four-game road series sweep of a 2023 playoff team.

"It feels really good,” Tellez said. “The vibes are really good. You have a lot of players in here that have been on winning teams, a lot of guys who want to be on a winning team. You can sense that. It’s a different aura. I haven’t been here very long, but you can see the difference.”

Tellez may be new to the Pirates, but he saw them plenty last year as a member of the Brewers. He also knows how tough Pittsburgh was to play last April, when the team rattled off a 20-8 start. The Bucs weren’t able to maintain that playoff-caliber form for a full season, but it showed they had it in them.

There’s only so much that can be taken away from the first series of the season, but perhaps a series like this again shows what the Pirates’ potential could be.

"You're talking about a team that was a playoff team last year,” manager Derek Shelton said. “That's a really good club. The thing that stands out to me, we have 26 names on our roster, and all 26 in the four-game series did something to help us win."

After falling behind 5-0 on a Jazz Chisholm Jr. grand slam in the first inning, Bailey Falter was able to get through four innings with only one more run allowed before handing it to the bullpen. A two-run triple by Alika Williams in the top of the second helped keep the Pirates within arm’s length, while Luis Ortiz, Ryan Borucki and Aroldis Chapman posted zeroes.

Tellez’s home run gave the Pirates the lead, but a ninth-inning pinch-hit homer from Nick Gordon forced the game to extras. In the 10th, Shelton opted to use Cruz as the automatic runner at second, pinch-running for Tellez.

On Friday, Shelton had a conversation with Delay about the potential for a safety squeeze with him at bat, if the situation was to present itself in the future. The Pirates couldn’t get the automatic runner home twice during their 12-inning win on Opening Day, so this was another opportunity. Delay put a perfect bunt up the line to first and Cruz slid in headfirst to give the Pirates the lead for good.

“Before I even looked down to [Mike] Rabelo at third base, I had a good feeling that the bunt would be on,” Delay said. “I was mentally prepared for it.”

In the 10th, Hunter Stratton worked around a base hit to pick up his first Major League save. Through four games, the bullpen has combined to go 20 1/3 innings with only two runs allowed, including none in the four extra innings where the Marlins were spotted an automatic runner at second base.

“Aw, man, our pitching has been so good,” Stratton said. “Our whole bullpen. Every guy we have out there loves to be in that moment. We’re locked in.”

Again, there’s only so much that can be taken from one series, but the Pirates did go just 3-9 in extra innings a year ago -- the fourth-worst record among all teams last season. This year, they are already 2-0. It's just the fourth time Pittsburgh has started 4-0 in the past 40 years, and the first time the club has started the season with a four-game road series sweep since 1903.

The Bucs believe it means something.

“We played well all the way around,” Tellez said. “We executed well in extra innings, the bunts. Whatever you have to do to win. It’s a long season. You never know what’s going to happen. But you want to pile up wins whenever you can.”