Palacios has 'bragging rights at Thanksgiving' after clutch HR

Outfielder wins it for Pirates in 9th vs. his brother's Cardinals, praises Bednar's gritty save

September 3rd, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- When David Bednar saw Joshua Palacios step to the plate in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter, the Pirates trailing by one run, he understood that, with one swing, he might have to start warming up in a hurry.

"I knew as soon as he got to the plate, it's like, 'OK, it's time to get going. He's going to do something here,'” Bednar said. 

Palacios has delivered several of Pittsburgh’s most exhilarating swings this season. There was the go-ahead double on the Fourth of July to stun the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. There was the walk-off home run against the Phillies on his 28th birthday. There was his home run against St. Louis against his younger brother, Richie, the first time they played each other in the big leagues. On Saturday night, Palacios delivered his latest clutch moment, launching a go-ahead, two-run home run to deliver a 7-6 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium for the Pirates' fifth straight victory.

“The environment, the lights, the people screaming -- it feels normal,” Palacios said. “It feels more like home. It feels like New York City, lets me be relaxed a little bit and lock in on my process.”

Palacios, indeed, feels right at home when the stakes are highest, when the lights are brightest. Coming into play, Palacios was hitting .290/.389/.613 with two home runs across 36 plate appearances this season during situations that Baseball Reference considers “late and close,” his 1.002 OPS leading the Pirates. When Palacios entered off the bench with one out in the ninth inning, the Pirates down by one run and the tying run on first, the situation was certainly both late and close.

On a 3-1 count, the Cardinals’ Drew VerHagen delivered a 91.6 mph down-and-inside fastball. In theory, VerHagen’s offering was well-placed. Prior to tonight, Palacios didn’t have a single hit this season on pitches that were down-and-inside. The location didn’t deter Palacios, who uncorked a powerful, violent swing that sent VerHagen’s heater into the Cardinals’ bullpen.

“He just has that feel, man,” Bednar said. “It's unbelievable. Playing the Cardinals, I think he definitely has the bragging rights at Thanksgiving this year. It seems like every time in the eighth or ninth when he comes up in a big spot, he delivers. He's just got that slow heartbeat, just makes stuff happen.”

Bednar’s assessment of Palacios could apply to Bednar himself, as the two-time All-Star navigated a high-stress ninth inning to record his 31st save and ensure Palacios’ efforts weren’t wasted.

Tommy Edman began the bottom of the ninth with a single, then Jordan Walker reached base when Bednar’s splitter ran too far inside and hit him. Masyn Winn laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting runners on second and third with one out for the top of the Cardinals’ order.

Lars Nootbaar, who homered earlier in the ballgame, refused to go down quietly. After running the count to 3-1, Nootbaar proceeded to foul off five consecutive pitches before Bednar won the battle with a perfectly-placed low-and-inside fastball looking.

Paul Goldschmidt, the reigning National League MVP, was no easier. Goldschmidt fouled off six of Bednar’s first seven offerings, one of which being a 108.0 mph line drive that, for a moment, filled the home crowd with false hope. Despite Goldschmidt’s stubbornness, Bednar concluded the at-bat -- and game -- by getting Goldschmidt to harmlessly ground out.

“It’s like watching greatness,” Palacios said. “Those are the ones that you really like to see because he’s grinding, he’s fighting for it, he wants to win it. Those guys, they’ve been doing a good job late in the game. But Bednar is amazing, man. Watching him every single pitch, locking in and how many pitches he has to execute within those at-bats is absolutely ridiculous. It’s why the dude’s an All-Star, and in my opinion, the best closer in the game.”