May 29, 2023

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Pirates' inexperience shows in extra-inning loss

4 min read

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates have lost their last six games. Each of those losses have come by one or two runs. They’re competing. They’re in these ballgames. But over the last week, they’ve been missing the one or two plays that flip those outcomes.

Michael Chavis’ errant throw and Oneil Cruz getting picked off in the top and bottom of the 10th inning, respectively, were a pair of late-game miscues that defined the Pirates’ 2-1 loss to the Phillies. Pittsburgh is playing well enough to be in positions to win, but as has been the case this week and this season as a whole, there is still growth to be had.

“We’ve got to keep going,” said manager Derek Shelton. “We’ve got to keep teaching. It can be frustrating, it is very frustrating to lose games like this.”

In the top of the game-defining frame, Chavis fielded a one-hopper off the bat of Matt Vierling. With his momentum already taking him to his right, Chavis elected to throw the ball to Ke’Bryan Hayes at third base in an attempt to nail Didi Gregorius, who was running on contact. The throw beat Gregorius to the base, but it was short and offline. It bounced off Hayes’ glove and rolled into foul territory, allowing Gregorius to score and put the Phillies ahead.

Prior to the pitch, Chavis had been prepared to make an aggressive throw to third given the chance. He believes he made the right read. Shelton does as well. Where the play went wrong, though, was that Chavis threw the ball with a two-seam grip as opposed to a four-seam grip, causing the ball to sink late. With Gregorius running, Chavis wanted to throw the ball as quickly as possible. But in the name of speed, he ended up sacrificing accuracy, and the throw went awry.

“I think it was the right play,” Chavis said. “I think it was honestly a pretty decent throw until it just bit. If I grab a four-seam [grip], I think it’s a whole different conversation. So, it was the right decision, but that’s baseball.”

Still, the Pirates had their chance in the bottom half of the frame. Cruz, one of the fastest players in all of baseball, started the inning at second base as the free runner — and he was promptly picked off. A golden opportunity to tie the ballgame had been squandered. The subsequent two batters failed to reach base, and the game was over.

“In that situation, I wanted to get a bigger lead, so if there was a hit I could get to third or maybe be able to score,” Cruz said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “Unfortunately, the opposite happened. They were able to turn around, pick me off. Caught me by surprise in that situation. It’s definitely something that I will learn [from], and [something] I guarantee will not happen again.”

It was Cruz’s second baserunning mistake in as many days. On Friday, Cruz was called out following a replay review when he failed to touch second base while returning to first after Yoshi Tsutsugo’s flyout. Shelton, who discussed the play before the game, noted that while Cruz didn’t touch second base, he had made a move towards third base because of how he rounded the bag, meaning he would have to touch second on the way back.

“Last night’s situation, that’s something that I wasn’t aware of,” Cruz said. “Something that was taught now and I’m aware of now, and I guarantee it’s not going to happen again. These are things that happen in a game. I’m going to be out here and definitely learning a lot. Really thankful to the coaching staff for teaching me everything that they know.

“These situations, I can’t let them beat me up. I’ve just got to grow from them.”

The Pirates were not without their moments. Mitch Keller didn’t have his best stuff, but managed to navigate craftily through the foreboding Phillies’ lineup, ending up with six innings of one-run ball. Hayes had a hand in that; in the third inning with Kyle Schwarber on second base, Hayes dove to his right to field Rhys Hoskins’ sharp grounder, then successfully deked Schwarber into thinking he was throwing to third base. Schwarber got caught in no man’s land and was tagged out. Cal Mitchell tied the game up in the seventh with his second home run in the last three nights.

This young team will have its moments of brilliance. It will also have its moments, as it did tonight, that show there is work to be done.

“Right now, we’re seeing a young club that is making mistakes that they have to learn and grow from,” Shelton said.

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