KANSAS CITY -- Ke'Bryan Hayes had seen this pitch before.
On Monday night, Hayes took a hanging slider in the middle of the zone from Carlos Hernández for a strike before working a walk. On Tuesday night, Hayes took the same hanging slider for a 424-foot ride for a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning.
Hayes, who is batting .320 in August with six homers and 20 RBIs, electrified Pittsburgh's dugout into a frantic celebration in the Pirates’ 6-3 series-clinching victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
The Pirates had three hits and advanced just one runner to second base in the seven innings prior to Hayes’ two-run blast that spoiled seven scoreless frames from Royals starter Cole Ragans.
Hayes has been on a tear since he returned from the injured list on Aug. 1, but Pittsburgh’s leadoff hitter checked off some personal goals with that one swing.
“Those are the type of moments you grow up playing this game for,” Hayes said. “Late in the game, tying the game up or taking the lead, it felt really great.
“It was one of those where you just don’t feel it. You kind of know you got it.”
The third baseman hit .240 in April and .208 in May before missing all but one game in July with lower back inflammation. But after a strong June and even better August, Hayes has secured career highs in home runs (11), triples (6) and RBIs (52).
“We knew that [Hayes had this potential],” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We saw it a little bit in 2020, and he had a good June when he was healthy. I think the biggest part of this is that he’s healthy. We’re seeing him move the way that we know he can move.”
Hayes has always flashed defensively. His 13 outs above average this season are third most in the Major Leagues, but his bat has taken a little longer to come around. Hayes said he has made it a point of emphasis this season to get behind the ball better by getting his front foot down so he can put the barrel out in front.
So far, it’s working.
“I’m just trying to do the same thing every day and go about my work the same way,” Hayes said. “Try to be on time and swing at the pitches I want to swing at. [I’m] trying to go up there and get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard.”
But the only reason why Hayes was given the opportunity to give the Pirates the lead was because of Colin Selby and Luis Ortiz. Selby tossed two scoreless frames as the opener before Ortiz came in and struck out five over five innings of one-run ball. It was Ortiz’s longest outing since June 23, and it came at a time where the Pirates are looking for all the help they can get from the rotation.
“Ortiz was outstanding,” Shelton said. “He was totally in control of his delivery, and I think last time out we saw him not be in control of his delivery. The big inning was when he got out of the bases-loaded jam [in the fourth]. He gave up the one run but stayed composed, and he did a really nice job.”
Pitching opposite Ragans, Ortiz had little room for error. But the young righty stepped up with the help of his changeup, which generated five whiffs on nine swings.
“That was the main goal, to put my teammates in a good spot,” Ortiz said. “That’s the resolve of the hard work [I put in] this past week. Refining some of the stuff I needed to refine, and it always feels good to help our whole team.”
Liover Peguero capped his career-high three-hit day with a three-run homer in the ninth to push the lead to 6-1, but it was Hayes’ homer that gave the Pirates the lead and forced the Royals to sit Hernández in the final frame.
And it was that six-pitch walk in Monday night’s victory that gave Hayes the advantage he needed to turn Tuesday’s game around in one swing.
“Facing him last night, I saw all [Hernández’s] pitches. I felt comfortable going into that at-bat and really, after he went 0-1 curveball, I was still sitting on the heater because he throws 100 [mph],” Hayes said. “But my body was in a good position, and I was able to react. I picked it up, and I was able to hit it hard.”