The Pittsburgh Pirates opened up the 2021 season with a wire-to-wire victory on Thursday at Wrigley Field against a division foe in the Chicago Cubs.
On a windy day in Chicago the Pittsburgh Pirates were able to jump out to an early lead and ride it all the way to the end. There were a few moments in the game where it seemed as if they would start to melt down, but they were able to pull it together on behalf of their bullpen to finish it out with a 5-3 victory.
Young Hayes Strikes Early!
Much of the talk this offseason has centered around the fact that this could be a long year for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. However, budding superstar Ke’Bryan Hayes has been a bright spot that fans and members of the organization have been looking forward to seeing shine this season.
Well, it did not take very long for Hayes to shine in the spotlight. After a leadoff walk to start the game from Adam Frazier, Hayes absolutely crushed a ball into the left field bleachers of Wrigley field to give the Pirates an early 2-0 lead. If that is a sign of what Hayes can bring to the Pirates this season and in future seasons, they could be well on their way to having a superstar back in Pittsburgh.
After Hayes got the scoring started early in the first half-inning, the Cubs answered with a run of their own on a sacrifice fly from Joc Pederson that scored Willson Contreras.
The Pittsburgh Pirates would get that run right back in the top half of the second inning. With runners on first and second with one out, Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl grounded into what looked like a double play. However, Kuhl was able to just barely beat the throw to keep the inning alive. That would prove to be huge as Adam Frazier followed up with a two-out knock into left field that scored Gregory Polanco to make it 3-1.
Sloppy defense in the third inning from the Pirates generated a run for the Cubs. After a fielding error by Frazier that allowed Contreras to reach base, Contreras then attempted to steal second base. Catcher Jacob Stallings hesitated before making the throw down to second, but it still looked like the throw would have been on-time. However, the throw got away and trickled into center field which allowed Contreras to advance to third. The Cubs would then cut their deficit back to 1 on a sacrifice fly from Anthony Rizzo that scored Contreras.
The blunders continued for the Pirates in their half of the fourth inning. After reaching on a walk, Anthony Alford was picked-off for the first out. Dustin Fowler entered the game to pinch hit for Kuhl and ripped a base hit down the first base line. Then, a Frazier walk was followed by a double steal that set the Pirates up with two runners in scoring position with only one out as Hayes stepped to the plate. Hayes sent a ball into fairly-deep right field that was caught by Jason Heyward which should have brought in a run, but for some reason Fowler took off on contact and failed to tag-up to score a run. The score remained 3-2 after that mess and Hayes was robbed of an RBI.
The Pittsburgh Pirates would end up getting that run back in the top-half of the fifth inning when Stallings ripped a double to left field that scored Colin Moran. They added another run in the seventh inning courtesy of a Frazier double that scored Alford, which made it 5-2 Pirates.
The Cubs pushed one more run across in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly from Contreras that scored Eric Sogard, but it was not enough as the Pirates won by a 5-3 score.
Pitching Tells the Story
One of the biggest question marks heading in to the season was whether or not the Pirates would be able to have a rotation and bullpen that could keep them in games. On the other side, the Cubs were confident in sending out one of the games most consistent pitchers in Kyle Hendricks. However, these storylines seemed to have been thrown out the window in game one.
Chad Kuhl looked a little bit shaky at times, but he was able to hold a lead in his outing. Kuhl threw three complete innings and gave up two runs on one hit. He also tallied two strikeouts.
The bright spot of the game had to be the bullpen of the Pirates. It did not look like a bullpen that had lots of unanswered questions. They were absolutely dominant on Opening Day. Duane Underwood Jr. got the ball in the fourth inning and struck out the side. He was followed by Clay Holmes, Sam Howard, and David Bednar who all posted zeros in their innings pitched. Howard also struck out the side in his outing. Bednar and Holmes made it look easy as they also combined for three K’s. Christ Stratton gave up a run in the eighth, but he was able to get out of it with very little damage done. Richard Rodriguez picked up the save in the ninth as went fly-out, walk, strikeout, strikeout in his outing. It was a GREAT day for the Pirates’ bullpen.
As for the Cubs, walks stood out the most in the Opening Day loss. Hendricks, who only allowed 8 walks in all of the shortened 2020 season, gave up four in his three innings pitched. He also gave up three earned runs before being yanked after the third inning.
The walks continued throughout the game after Hendricks was pulled. The Chicago bullpen accounted for eight walks that helped set the Pirates up for additional runs down the stretch. The 11 walks in a game was the most on an Opening Day in the live-ball era.
Hendricks was given the loss, Howard earned the win for the Pirates, and Rich Rod picked up the save.
Adam Frazier led the way for the Buccos as he went 2-4 with a single, a double, and two RBI’s while reaching base four times.
Ke’Bryan Hayes went 1-5 in his 2021 debut, but his one hit was a big one to get the Pirates on top early in which they never looked back.
Jacob Stallings had a great day at the plate as he went 2-4 with a single, a double, and an RBI.
Kevin Newman continued his hot-hitting from Spring Training into Opening Day as he also picked up two hits in five appearances.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will get to enjoy this Opening Day victory for a little bit longer as they have a day off on Friday. They will be back at Wrigley Field on Saturday to continue the opening series against the Cubs.
The pitching matchup is slated to be Tyler Anderson for the Pirates against Jake Arrieta for the Cubs. First pitch is set for 2:20 PM ET in Chicago.