Williams triumphs over Cubs in his final start

September 24th, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- After walking off the mound for the final time this season, spent a little extra time Wednesday night just sitting in the chair in front of his locker at PNC Park. Finally, he could relax and head into the offseason feeling at least a bit more like himself again.

The Pirates right-hander delivered a gritty start reminiscent of his second-half run in 2018, holding the Cubs to three hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win over Chicago on Wednesday night at PNC Park.

“It was fun to be in rhythm with [catcher ] again,” Williams said. “It was fun to pitch to him like we did and just get back to the basics of what makes me good and going from there.”

What makes Williams good? A comfortable, easy-flowing delivery that allows him to command his fastball and both breaking balls. After struggling to find it recently, Williams felt like it clicked over the past few days and took it into his final start of the season.

Williams struck out four and gave up a first-inning home run to , the 15th homer he's allowed this season, but he hung around to throw 101 pitches and pick up his second win in 11 starts this season. It was a nice bounce-back start for Williams, who had given up 27 earned runs in 25 1/3 innings over his previous five outings.

As much as the Pirates will welcome the opportunity to rest, the end of the season is approaching at an almost inopportune time for their rotation. In one full turn since Williams’ last outing, Pittsburgh’s six starters allowed a total of four earned runs in 36 1/3 innings. They put together four quality starts in that stretch, and Williams fell one out shy of making it five against the Cubs.

“Do I wish I had 20 more starts? Of course. I think all of us as a rotation are trending upward, which is really huge,” Williams said. “Everyone is in the same boat. I’m just looking forward to a full offseason to be able to really capitalize and hone in on what I need to hone in on.”

Two batters into the bottom of the first, Williams had a lead he wouldn't relinquish. and launched back-to-back homers off Cubs starter . Those were the only runs the Pirates managed to score against Hendricks, who pitched into the eighth inning, but it was enough.

Frazier now ranks third in franchise history with nine leadoff homers, behind only Barry Bonds (20) and Al Martin (10). It was just the fifth time in franchise history that the Pirates began the first inning with consecutive homers; they last accomplished the feat against the Reds on Sept. 20, 2013, with back-to-back jacks off Mat Latos by Jose Tabata and Neil Walker.

And if you count Stallings’ walk-off homer on Tuesday night …

“We went back-to-back-to-back homers. We just waited 24 hours to do it,” manager Derek Shelton said, smiling. “Really nice to see Frazier lead off the game, and then Key hits a two-iron into the right-center-field bleachers.”

Relievers Austin Davis, Nik Turley, Chris Stratton and Richard Rodríguez combined to allow only two hits over the final 3 1/3 innings to complete the Pirates’ second straight win, just their 17th in 56 games overall.

It was a satisfying finish to a mostly unsatisfying year for Williams, who endured a trying season on and off the field.

"He was getting ahead and not really giving them any pitches to get back into counts with. I think that was the biggest difference between his last few starts and tonight," Frazier said. "He's going to go out and compete. Happy for him to end the season on a high note."

Williams, 28, will end the season with eight losses and a 6.18 ERA. It's the second straight year he'll have reason to believe he's a better pitcher than his numbers indicate, after he posted a 5.38 ERA over 26 starts during an injury-interrupted 2019 campaign. He had some strong starts, like his seven-inning outing against the Twins on Aug. 5 and Wednesday's start, but he was plagued this season by inconsistency and, above all, home runs.

But as tough as this year may have been on the mound at times, it was more of a grind away from the ballpark. He's not the only one who felt that way, Shelton acknowledged before the game, noting the extraordinary circumstances under which this season was played. Some players, coaches and staff -- including Williams -- went three months without seeing their families, without an outlet to get them away from the game.

Williams admitted that going through this season while his family -- wife Jackie and three children under 5 years old -- was back home wore on him. But he's now only days away from a reunion, and his last start left him motivated to keep working this winter.

"I sat in my chair today after my start for a while and just kind of relaxed," Williams said. "My body's good, and I am going to exhale the next couple days. I'm looking forward to getting back to my family, and I'm looking forward to getting better and getting ready for 2021."