CHICAGO — Roberto Pérez and José Quintana are at vastly different points in their careers than the majority of this Pirates team. The 33-year-olds have already lived, for the most part, full Major League careers. Most of their teammates, rather, are trying to find their footing. Pérez and Quintana are unmistakably the elder statesmen, the clubhouse leaders with volumes of wisdom to share.
They can still show the youngsters how it’s done, too.
Pittsburgh’s veterans had a big hand in the Pirates’ 4-2 win over the Cubs on Friday night at Wrigley Field. Pérez hit his first home run and drove in three while Quintana allowed two runs in 4 2/3 innings with three strikeouts. It was an evening for the veterans, and Pérez couldn’t help but admit that his and Quintana’s contributions made the win feel extra special.
“There are a lot of younger guys in here who look up to us and ask themselves, ‘Why are they here? They’ve been in the big leagues for so long,’” Pérez said. “[Quintana] is doing a pretty good job with [the pitchers], so I’m trying to do the same thing with the younger position players, trying to bring my experience.”
The definition of “success” for this particular team is multi-faceted. They want to win, yes, but there’s also the component of growth. The Pirates, back at .500, are checking off both boxes, and Pérez and Quintana have played their part.
Some of the finest parts of Pérez’s evening were far more subtle than his two-run single or solo home run. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Pérez ever-so-slightly shifted his glove over the plate on a down-and-in payoff fastball to Patrick Wisdom, persuading home plate umpire Pat Hoberg to ring him up. Pérez entered the day ranked in the 96th percentile for catcher framing, and it showed.
That wasn’t the only element of Pérez’s defense that he got to show off. In the seventh inning, Pérez fielded a softly hit grounder off the bat of Yan Gomes right in front of home plate. Right-hander Chase De Jong, making his first appearance of the season, hopped off the mound to field the grounder but ceded to Pérez. Following the game, De Jong explained his rationale.
“I can tell you this, how my brain was working during the game. The first-pitch comebacker, I hear him say, ‘I got it, I got it.’ I literally thought through my head, ‘He has two Gold Gloves, I have none, get the heck out of the way,’” De Jong said.
Added Pérez: “I always want to be back there for the pitchers. I’m a defensive guy first. … Back there, I take a lot of pride in my defense, whether it’s framing, throwing guys out or blocking the baseball. I’m always in it.”
As for Quintana, the southpaw came within one batter of being eligible for his first win of the year. With two outs and a runner on second base in the bottom of the fifth inning, manager Derek Shelton pulled Quintana in favor of Heath Hembree to face Seiya Suzuki.
The move ended up paying off; like David Bednar the night before, Hembree struck out Suzuki and preserved the lead. Quintana explained with a smile that he tried to get Shelton to keep him in the game but was happy with the win regardless. Not that Quintana has a shortage of wins at this ballpark.
This was his first time pitching at Wrigley Field since Sept. 21, 2019 — Quintana’s four appearances for the Cubs in 2020 were all on the road — and his first appearance as an opponent since July 12, 2015. He’s got a lot of history in this ballpark, and acknowledged that he felt a little different as he walked into work.
Quintana will always appreciate that time with the Cubs, but his attention, as well as that of Pérez, lies with the Pirates and helping mentor their collective youth. For how long will be worth wondering.
Both veterans, should they continue to perform well, are viable candidates to be dealt at the Trade Deadline in exchange for prospects. Pérez is an excellent defender, while Quintana can operate as either a starter or long reliever. Their time here might be limited to a couple of months. As long as their allegiance lies in Pittsburgh, though, they’ll have a clubhouse full of pupils willing to learn.