Young Bucs miss sweep, show growth 

September 19th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- The long wait continues.

After 14 failed series sweep bids, the Pirates put themselves in a position to sweep the Marlins, but they were walked off, 6-5, in 10 innings on Sunday afternoon at loanDepot park as Chad Kuhl allowed a home run to Lewin Díaz.

“If we keep winning the first two games of the series and put ourselves in a position to sweep, then we’re gonna be in good shape,” manager Derek Shelton said. “But today’s a tough one, because we had the lead twice and ended up giving it back.”

However, what some of the young Bucs accomplished on the day -- and the series -- is much more reassuring to Pittsburgh’s staff and development team.

Hoy Park and Cole Tucker, a pair of Pirates who have struggled this season, powered an offense that struggled with runners in scoring position (0-for-11) in the game.

Tucker went 2-for-3 and scored the first two runs for Pittsburgh, which moved his performance in the three-game series to 7-for-11. Even Tucker’s outs were competitive, with a few being deep flyouts for the 25-year-old who has tried to establish gap-to-gap extra-base power at the Major League level.

“That’s what I’m striving to do every time, to hit it on the head and [to] have real, true, legit success all weekend was really fun," Tucker said. "I’m going to try to carry it over into Cincinnati.”

Tucker’s series ended not with a hit, but instead with a ninth-inning walk with the Pirates down by a run. That set the table for Park’s go-ahead homer to right field off Marlins closer Dylan Floro in the ninth inning.

Park is not a home run hitter. He will be blunt with you about that. What he wants to be, though, is a player who works himself into good counts to either draw walks or hit the ball flush.

“I didn't try to hit a homer in that at-bat,” Park said. “I tried to make good contact and tried to get on base, tried to make it a tie game. It was perfect timing.”

Park has hit into some tough outs recently, but even with a couple this weekend, he went 3-for-9 with a two-run triple and a clutch home run. His teammates are taking notice, and they even gave him a celebratory rendition of his walk-up song when he came back to the dugout after the big fly.

“The whole dugout was chanting, ‘Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!,'” said Tucker, while pumping his fists. “It was a pretty cool moment to be a part of.”

The Pirates stayed in the game in part thanks to Max Kranick, who flashed dominance in his first three innings vs. the Marlins. He induced a popup for his first out of the game, then struck out the next six batters in a row, setting a career-high mark in strikeouts. The last time a Bucs pitcher struck out at least six batters consecutively came on June 10, 2013, when Francisco Liriano struck out six Reds.

What was the key?

“My pace,” Kranick said. “[Facing] those hitters, I was in control. I was getting on the mound and getting back at it. It’s -- I think -- a combination of all those things, but I think my pace definitely stood out.”

Kranick entered the game with 21 runs allowed in his past 19 2/3 innings, but on Sunday, he was as comfortable and dominant as he’s looked on the mound since his perfect MLB debut in St. Louis. However, three late runs spoiled the day a bit and made the Bucs have to work from behind, as Kranick said he got out of his delivery.

“That's something I need to change from pitch to pitch,” Kranick added. “Instead, it took me probably two batters. I need to realize that sooner and nip that in the bud and continue to roll.”

Maybe those signs of growth are what makes this one sting even more: With a chance to finally sweep a series, the Pirates got silver lining upon silver lining and couldn’t close the door.

They have three more series to try to punch a sweep, or else they’ll become the seventh team in the Divisional Era to go a full season without one.

“Yeah, it’s a bummer,” Tucker said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to win, and our record would look at lot different [if we did]. We’re going to shower it off like we always do.”