Cole Tucker homers in debut, leads Pirates to 5th straight win
Lightning struck twice Saturday night at PNC Park.
The first time, it produced a crackle of light beyond the city skyline, a display so prominent it caused rookie shortstop Cole Tucker to step out of the batter’s box for the moment.
A few seconds later, Tucker produced the second lightning strike.
Tucker christened his major league debut by smacking a two-run homer into the shrubbery beyond the center-field wall that snapped a tie score in the fifth inning and gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a 3-1 victory against the San Francisco Giants in a rain-shortened game.
“I hope there is lightning tomorrow,” Tucker said.
The game was stopped after the fifth inning, and Tucker and the Pirates had to wait out a 3-hour, 8-minute rain delay before the victory became official. It was the fifth win in a row and sixth in the past seven games for the Pirates, whose 12-6 record is tops in the National League.
“I just wanted to come in and help us win,” said Tucker, a 22-year-old rookie and former first-round draft pick. “To help us do that is special. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”
When he pulled out his cellphone after the long wait, he discovered 510 missed text messages. And when he returned to his locker after taking a shower, he found a likeness of his swinging the bat had been placed atop a photo of the Honus Wagner statue.
“What a crazy day,” Tucker said.
Tucker was one of two rookies inserted into the lineup because of injuries to Starling Marte and Erik Gonzalez that landed both players on the injured list. Bryan Reynolds started in center and collected his first major league hit in the fourth inning, a sharp single to left.
“It felt great to get that off my mind,” Reynolds said. “Now, I can go forward.”
Tucker became the first Pirates player to homer in his major league debut since Marte on July 26, 2012, at Houston.
With two outs in the fifth, the score tied 1-1 and Pablo Reyes on second, Tucker smacked Derek Holland’s 2-2 pitch for a 431-foot blast.
“I knew what was happening. I hit it, and I knew I got it,” Tucker said. “It felt amazing, and I was pretty calm rounding first and second.”
Then, Tucker got a glimpse of third-base coach Joey Cora, his teammates in the dugout and the fans cheering in the box seats.
“I kind of lost it,” Tucker said. “I started screaming and yelling. … I felt possessed.”
The paid crowd of 17,663 showed appreciation for Tucker with a loud ovation that resulted in an unexpected curtain call. Tucker thumped his chest after waving to the crowd.
“Who the hell gets a curtain call in the major leagues?” Tucker said. “That was just so cool, man. I kind of lost it. That was just a cool moment for me. I’ll never forget it.”
Starter Jameson Taillon (1-2) was credited with his first win of the season. He worked all five innings before the rain came, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out three and walked one while throwing 79 pitches. He lowered his ERA to 3.12.
Holland (1-3) pitched all five innings for the Giants and took the loss.
Jung Ho Kang’s third homer of the season provided a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Kang hit a 79 mph knuckle curve into the second level of left-field bleachers.
The Giants tied it in the fifth on Steven Duggar’s RBI single. The Giants had runners on first and second after Holland bunted his sacrifice attempt over the head of a charging Kang for a single. Duggar singled to left, and Jason Martin bobbled the ball as Kevin Pillar came around for the tying run.
Tucker put the Pirates ahead in their half of the inning to punctuate a surreal start to his major league career.
“Coolest day of my life,” he said.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .