2 storybook homers power Pirates' 5-run comeback

June 3rd, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates went into a 5-0 hole after only three innings, it was statistically unlikely they would come back. The largest deficit the team had overcome in 2023 was three runs, and Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty had held the offense in check for most of his 5 1/3-inning outing.

But the Pirates haven’t lived by the predictive numbers much this season, as they try to craft a contending season after years of struggles. And those types of seasons need a few storybook moments sprinkled in.

The Pirates got two of those moments on Friday night, as two big blasts capped a six-run seventh that cemented a come-from-behind 7-5 victory over the Cardinals at PNC Park. One came from a hitter trying to find the swing he had early in his career, while the other came from a hitter trying to make a name on his third team in three seasons.

, once a mainstay in the leadoff spot for former Pirates teams, was written in the lineup card on Friday as the No. 7 batter. After signing an eight-year extension at the outset of the 2022 season, he entered the game with a .648 OPS in 189 games over the past two seasons.

Ever the steady head, though, Hayes has not let the grind affect his preparation. On Monday, when he was out of the lineup in San Francisco, he was on the field early with hitting coach Andy Haines.

“I think we started to see good swings,” manager Derek Shelton said of Hayes in the San Francisco series, “and some of them didn't even result in hits, but [we saw] line drives [with the] ball out front.”

Hayes was again seen early Friday taking pregame hacks, working to time up his toe tap and get his load in the right spot.

It paid off. Hayes unloaded for the Bucs' first homer of the night after the Pirates had rallied for a run in the sixth and two runs in the seventh. Well known as an opposite-field hitter, Hayes pulled this one a Statcast-projected 421 feet to left-center field on the first pitch he saw from Giovanny Gallegos to turn a two-run deficit into a one-run lead.

Hayes’ homer delivered a whopping 53% win probability added. That’s the definition of clutch.

“Probably one of my best hits or home runs in my career so far,” Hayes said. “... I went up there after [Ji Hwan] Bae struck out and wanted to pick my teammate up and wanted to get something early in the count. Really, first pitch, I was looking for a hanging breaking ball, and [it] backed up."

With the crowd still roaring after Hayes’ jolt, one of the newest faces on the Pirates stepped to the plate. In his third MLB season with his third team, entered his at-bat vs. Gallegos with a stretch of 122 plate appearances to begin his career without a homer.

Palacios came out swinging. He fouled off a first-pitch fastball then turned on a hanging changeup that nearly cleared the seats in right field. Palacios punctuated his Statcast-estimated 426-foot drive to right-center field with a majestic bat flip, then a hard slash with the Pirates’ celebratory sword in the dugout.

“That was probably the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in a baseball game,” Palacios said.

Palacios has been a welcome surprise for the Bucs, as he’s gone 8-for-28 (.286) with a home run, a triple and a double in only 32 plate appearances after producing a .368/.433/.598 slash line in 21 Minor League games this season -- by far his best rate of production in the pros thus far.

“Very cool for Josh,” Shelton said. “I mean, the fact that you work your butt off in the big leagues, when you check one of those boxes off, it's really nice. And for it to come in such a big moment and be able to extend the lead was really a special thing to see."

The Pirates are beginning to create a collection of big moments they hope will define a winning season. With three hits shy of the 2,000 mark for his career, it would be logical to expect another one in the coming days.

But Friday night was one in which two younger players gave the fans something to remember.

“I'm sure that guy over there,” said Hayes, pointing to McCutchen’s locker, “he's probably given them some even crazier moments. But yeah, definitely, that was one of the bigger moments I've had in my career, so that was pretty fun."