Andrew McCutchen, on Pirates salute: 'It was a day to remember'
The crowd didn't just celebrate Andrew McCutchen's return to PNC Park with a standing ovation and a chorus of "M-V-P" chants.
Pirates fans continued by booing his called third strike in the first inning and cheering his double in the seventh for the San Francisco Giants.
"It shows what this fan base is all about," McCutchen said. "They're ride or die, and they've been riding with me and it seems like they're going to keep riding with me."
McCutchen's voice cracked a couple of times in the postgame interview in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse, one of many foreign feelings Friday for the former Pirates star.
The announced attendance of 34,720 for the Pirates' 11-2 victory was the best home crowd of the season, and it was clear from the start that the majority of Pirates fans were there to cheer Cutch.
When McCutchen approached the plate for his first at-bat, the Pirates played a short tribute video and the crowd gave a 90-second standing ovation.
McCutchen kept a stiff upper lip but later admitted that his emotions were "intense, high, something to remember, for sure." Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli stood at the edge of the infield, protecting the plate and allowing McCutchen to have a magical moment.
Thank you. A moment I will never forget :pray: https://t.co/moHmef7u8L— andrew mccutchen (@TheCUTCH22) May 12, 2018
"Cervelli did a good job, just giving me that moment, giving me the time," McCutchen said. "I told him I was ready to go but he shook his head no, so I was able to step back and continue to be in the moment. ...
"He gave it to me, and I appreciated it. That is something you don't want to rush, through."
So he took it in.
San Francisco Giants RF Andrew McCutchen receives rousing ovation from Pirates fans at PNC Park before first at bat, including MVP chants. pic.twitter.com/UaXbihUww2— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) May 11, 2018
McCutchen allowed that the cheers made it tougher to hit. He was trying not to allow tears to well, knowing Pirates starter Jameson Taillon had a 96 mph two-seam fastball coming.
"Great emotions there," McCutchen said, "but it was worth it."
Taillon never had been involved in a tribute to an opposing batter and didn't know when to step back onto the mound, so he also was grateful Cervelli knew what to do in that moment.
"Today might have been cooler than my debut, honestly," Taillon said. "It's a weird reality when you have to find a way to get that guy out, when you're used to wanting him to do well.
"It's something you're going to tell your kids about: 'I got to face Cutch the first time he came back to Pittburgh.' How cool is that?"
Those are the types of moments that we dream of as kids! @TheCUTCH22 ,you deserved every bit of that reception! Going to be telling my kids about this night!— Jameson Taillon (@JTaillon19) May 12, 2018
Almost as cool as Pirates fans booing home plate umpire Chris Segal for that called third strike.
"That's a little different," McCutchen said, with a laugh. "I think it was a strike, though."
Pirates fans also applauded McCutchen's double in the seventh, though they probably weren't thrilled about the prospect of him coming to bat in the eighth with the bases loaded until he grounded into a forceout.
They also weren't happy when he threw out Colin Moran at home from right field, a play the Pirates challenged but held up after review.
"These fans came, and they showed their support," McCutchen said. "That says a lot for me. I'm humbled by it. I appreciate it. I always have and always will. For them to do what they did today is something that's going to be with me from here on out."
A five-time All-Star who led the Pirates to three consecutive postseason appearances after two decades of losing, McCutchen couldn't get comfortable using the visitors' clubhouse and dugout or playing against the Pirates.
"I don't think there was anything too normal about it," McCutchen said. "You try your best to make it as normal as possible, but you're playing against a bunch of guys that you played with, and that's not normal. That's not easy. You've got to go out there and compete at the end of the day, and I did my best to do that. But I think they kind of had the advantage over me a little bit, just because of the moment.
"Just grinding through it, I did my best. I just appreciated every moment. Hopefully, showing up tomorrow will be a little more normal."
McCutchen called his homecoming a special day and a special moment, especially the second video tribute that had choked up when he said, "It definitely meant a lot."
It might have meant more if McCutchen had gone 5 for 5 and gotten the win instead of 1 for 5 with a loss, but that didn't happen.
"In your wildest dreams, you always think of things like the greatest thing possible would be to have this happen, but the odds of that are pretty slim," McCutchen said. "It was a good day. Loss aside, performance aside, it was a day to remember."
And a salute to savor.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.