Adam Frazier's 11th-inning home run leads Pirates to 2-1 victory against Cubs
The seed was planted 35 years ago by Davey Johnson when he was managing a young free swinger named Clint Hurdle with the New York Mets.
It grew in Hurdle’s mind as he became a manager – 22 seasons and counting now – and it led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a dramatic 2-1 victory Sunday against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.
Given the green light by Hurdle on a 3-0 count with two outs in a 1-1 tie in the 11 th inning, Adam Frazier swung away against Brandon Kintzler – let the ball bounce where it may – and homered into the right-field seats.
“Very impressed, very pleased, satisfied, just a really pretty swing,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle can’t tell you how many times he’s allowed hitters to swing at 3-0, but he knows this much:
“A lot. I’ve done it for a while,” he said. “When you find guys who can do it. I haven’t seen many who (can’t). Every once in a while, they’ll overswing, but it’s a glorified 2-0.
“Davey Johnson brought it to my attention when I was playing for him in 1983, just the mindset. Same count, you’re looking for a ball over the plate you want to ride.
“We talk about it here a lot. Joey (Pirates third-base coach Cora) is mindful of letting them know I like (3-0 swings). I do. I’m a fan of the swing.
“Sometimes, it doesn’t always work out. It worked out (Sunday).”
With what remained of a crowd of 24,283 anticipating a 12 th inning, Frazier was calm as he stood in the box.
“It’s another pitch, be ready to hit,” said Frazier, who also hit a walkoff home run last season against the Milwaukee Brewers. “I guess it’s my demeanor, personality. I never get too high or too low. The more level you can stay in this game, I feel like the more it helps.”
Frazier is hitting .390 since he was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on July 25, but he didn’t start Sunday. Yet, he played a big part in the two most important innings.
He was hit by a pitch in the ninth after Cubs relief pitchers Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop walked two batters. With one out and the bases loaded, Cubs manager Joe Maddon brought in Ben Zobrist from right field as the fifth infielder. That gave Corey Dickerson little room to roll a ball into the outfield, and the move worked as Dickerson grounded into a 4-9-3 double play.
The Pirates, who have been scoreless in 39 of their past 42 innings, missed several scoring opportunities, including twice in the sixth.
Starling Marte ran from third on a groundball to first base, and was trapped. Later in the inning, Gregory Polanco stayed on third on a short fly ball to left fielder Kyle Schwarber, whose throw home eluded two Cubs players.
“Yeah, we had an opportunity to get ahead right there and we didn’t capitalize,” Hurdle said.
An inning later, rookie pinch-runner Kevin Newman took a wide turn around third base trying to score on Starling Marte’s double into the left-field corner. This time, Schwarber hit cutoff man Javier Baez and Newman was out at the plate.
“We complicated things throughout the afternoon,” Hurdle said. “We’ll unpack all that (Monday). We got in our own way a number of different times on the bases to handicap us.”
But the overriding theme of the four-game series with the Cubs was Pirates pitching. The Cubs, who lead the National League Central, scored only four runs in 38 innings – all on solo homers.
Jameson Taillon helped salvage the split by giving the Pirates their fourth consecutive strong start, striking out eight in six innings and allowing the Cubs to score only on Schwarber’s 22 nd home run. Relief pitchers Edgar Santana, Keone Kela, Felipe Vazquez and Richard Rodriguez added five scoreless innings on only three hits. Overall, the Cubs struck out 15 times.
Give bench coach Tom Prince credit for a key out in the Cubs’ half of the 10 th , calling a designed pickoff play from catcher Elias Diaz to third baseman David Freese. Addison Russell was straying too far down the line and was an easy out.
“Once you get a strike you look for aggressive runners. The Cubs are aggressive,” Hurdle said.
Said Diaz: “(Russell) was expecting the squeeze play. That’s why he was so far off the base.”
All of those moments made Taillon’s heart race faster than when he was on the mound.
“Runners in scoring position, our hitters are up, I get nervous for them,” he said. “When I’m out there, I don’t really feel it.”
The Pirates (63-62) needed the victory desperately to keep their slim playoff hopes alive as they begin a stretch of 12 games against contending teams. They trail the Cubs by nine games in the National League Central and need to jump over four teams to earn a wild-card berth.
“It would have definitely hurt if we lost,” Taillon said. “(Sunday) was a big one.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.