DENVER — On the first day of spring training, Pirates manager Derek Shelton told his players that 2023 will be different for Pittsburgh.
said third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes after the Bucs completed a sweep of the Rockies at Coors Field in a 14-3 win Wednesday afternoon.
“We want to win now.”
Winning was a recurring feeling for the Buccaneers early in the season. Their latest win marked another convincing defeat to cap their first sweep of Denver since September 2019. It was also Pittsburgh’s second sweep of the season and improved the team’s record for most upset in baseball to date to 12-7.
It was a historic day on multiple fronts. With 14 innings pitched, Book totaled 33 in the three-game set, the most they have scored in any three-game series since they scored 34 against the Padres July 28–30, 2000.
The 14 runs came on 18 hits, the vast majority of which were badly hit. In fact, for the first time since Statcast began tracking in 2015, the Pirates have put 15 balls into play at an exit speed of more than 100 miles per hour. Not bad for a club that lost its strongest player, Oneil Cruz, who is out after fracturing his left ankle.
It was more than just the team doing things the Pirates hadn’t done in years. With his six powerful innings, Yohan Oviedo converted right for Pittsburgh’s ninth consecutive quality start. The last time the Bucs had nine or more quality starts in a row was from June 30 to July 8, 2015 (also nine).
The Buccaneers were relentless on Wednesday, just as they were during the first three weeks of the season. Few expected to win 12 of their first 19 games, especially when their schedule included series against the Red Sox, White Sox, Astros, and Cardinals. But there is something qualitatively different in this year’s lineup.
“When you add veteran players to that – when you add [Andrew McCutchen] And [Carlos] Santana — and with Brian Reynolds having another year under his belt, and then the little kids start to get on, [it makes a big impact]Shelton said. “…and I think the energy in our dugout from the first game of the season was different. I think there was a different level of belief in themselves.”
The combination of veteran additions like McCutcheon, Santana, and left-handed Rich Hill with young stars like Reynolds, Hayes, and Cruz seemed to produce – at least from the perspective of the wider baseball world – early success. But it wasn’t unexpected for the players to leave the visiting club at Coors Field when they embarked on the journey home for a series against the Reds and Dodgers.
“I think the last few years, we were very young and we didn’t really have that obvious person in our locker room who was there and did that with winning teams,” said Hayes. “So we were just trying to figure out how to do that, and I think now this is kind of the third year with a lot of familiar guys who know each other, and I think it all adds up.
“And then whenever you get guys like Cutch, Santana, Ji-Man Choi, guys who’ve been in World Series and things like that, as a young player, to see how they do it in a huge way.”
McCutcheon was a big contributor on Wednesday, hitting a double and his fourth home run of the season to continue his spirited start. The first-run double was the 296th in a Pirates uniform, tying him with Dave Parker for seventh in franchise history. It was also his 1,480th hit as a Pirate, breaking a tie with Parker for 13th all-time. His six total bases in the contest gave him 2,486 with the Bucs, which ranked him ninth in the franchise scoring books.
The 36-year-old veteran is enjoying an early renaissance in his return to the Pirates, but McCutcheon brings more than just offensive production to the franchise he’s become a star with. He is well aware of this, and is willing to see things through with a team on the rise.
McCutcheon also knows there’s a lot of baseball ahead.
“Guys feel energized. They feel good about the way things are going,” he said. “But I’m one of the guys who’s been around long enough to say that’s fine and all, but in the words of Kobe [Bryant]”The job is not over.”
“It’s not just about being here. It’s about trying to win here.”
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