Pittsburgh Pirates top Toronto Blue Jays, 8-7, in opener


If Tuesday’s contest was any indication, there’s going to be plenty of fireworks at Pittsburgh Pirates’ games this season.

Thanks to a four-RBI game from slugging first baseman Pedro Alvarez and the first home run of Jung-ho Kang’s big league career, the Pirates jumped out to an early lead and held on late, taking down the Toronto Blue Jays by an 8-7 final.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, Toronto trailed 8-6 – but the home team made things interesting before it was all said and done. Right-hander Ryan Beckham took the hill for the frame, but ran into trouble  quickly.

After walking and hitting the first two respective batters he faced, Mitch Nay singled on a hard-hit liner to left that plated Daric Barton from second, cutting the Pittsburgh lead to 8-7. After Ryan Goins failed to move the runners with a sacrifice bunt (striking out after three failed attempts), a ground ball to Steve Lombardozzi accounted for the second out of the inning.

With runners on the corners, Chris Dickerson drew a walk to load the bases, moving the winning run to second base in the process. However, Beckham settled down and got the job done, inducing a ground ball out to shortstop for the final out of the contest.

Pittsburgh (1-0) scored three times in the first, twice in the second and once in the third – jumping out to an impressive 6-0 lead against Jays’ prospect Aaron Sanchez (0-1), who lasted just 1/3 innings – allowing five runs – just two of which were earned.

The Alvarez opposite field blast in the first opened the scoring for Clint Hurdle‘s club, which is looking to simply put in work and get ready for the upcoming season with almost the entire roster already decided.

A Jeff Decker two-run double in the second that scored Deibinson Romero and Tony Sanchez made it 5-0 Pittsburgh – chasing Sanchez and leading to a long afternoon of work for the Jays’ relief corps.

Opposite Sanchez, Casey Sadler pitched well for the Pirates, allowing just one walk over two scoreless innings of work. The most notable facet of the Bucs’ pitching was the struggles of right-handed reliever Stolmy Pimentel, who lasted just one inning, allowing three runs and walking two.

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Kang’s aforementioned blast came in the top of the third inning against former Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada. No one – the Pirates announcing tandem included – thought he squared the pitch up well enough to drive it out, but it cleared the right-center field wall and pushed the Pittsburgh lead to 6-0.

Kevin Pillar led the comeback charge for the Jays offensively, clubbing a two-run homer in the bottom of the third, with Jose Bautista plating another run in the frame on an RBI groundout. A two-run single by Jose Thole in the bottom of the eighth closed the gap to 8-6, but the team couldn’t swing the momentum – or the score – before the game went final.

What Stood Out:

A lot stood out for the Pirates in their Grapefruit League opener Tuesday, but for me, personally, I was impressed with the poise that Kang showed during his at-bats. He didn’t look overmatched in any way and he looked very comfortable at the dish.

If he can even come close to replicating his 40-homer season from the KBO last year in his first season in the bigs, this Pirates team stands to gain quite a bit. Of course, he’ll have to find the balance between average and power, but Tuesday’s showing was a strong first step.

When asked about his home run, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune that it wasn’t all that different than his past long-balls.

Hopefully, there’s not much of a difference for Kang in all regards, but we’ll take a homer on Day One.

What’s Next: 

Gerrit Cole will make his Spring Training debut in Bradenton on Wednesday as the same two teams hook up to do battle, with first pitch slated for 1:05 p.m. ET.

Cole’s role this season is very much debated amongst Pirates’ fans; most see him as an ace on this staff, but for now, he seems perfectly accepting of a back seat role to the older, more experienced players on the staff.

Last season, Cole went 11-5 with a 3.65 earned run average in a career-high 22 starts that spanned 138 innings. This year, he’ll look to increase that work load while remaining effective.

Opposite Cole will be Jays’ right-hander Marcus Stroman, who could be a big part of Toronto’s starting rotation this season.

Next: Kang, Alvarez homer in Pirates' win over Toronto