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‘I Was Really Pissed Off,’ Oneil Cruz on 3 Thunderous Hits for Pirates

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Oneil Cruz’s night at PNC Park quickly got off to a bad start.

The San Francisco Giants were in town for the start of a three-game series on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although the Pirates erased a big deficit and came through in the 10th inning with a 7-6 walk-off win, they quickly found themselves in a deficit due to a Cruz flub.

With two aboard and two out in the top of the first inning, Cruz looked like he had a shallow pop-up to left field sized up. However, Cruz briefly lost sight of the ball in the bright sun and saw what looked like a fairly routine catch bounce off his glove and land in play.

Instead of heading to the dugout in a scoreless tie, both Giants’ runners scored and the inning continued. After starting pitcher Martín Pérez recorded the final out, Cruz was due up third for the Pirates in the home half of the inning.

The 6-foot-7 Cruz proceeded to line a 120.4 mph single down the right-field line, the hardest hit ball in the major leagues this season. It took Cruz all of eight innings to eclipse his season-record swing.

Trailing by four runs in the ninth inning, the Pirates scored three times leading up to Cruz’s fifth at-bat of the game. With two outs and the Pirates trailing by a run, Cruz roped a 121.5 mph double to right field to plate the tying run and force extra innings.

In between Cruz’s two missiles, he ripped an opposite-field double at a measly 116.3 mph.

“I think it had to do with the first fly ball that I missed at short,” Cruz said through interpreter/coach Stephen Morales on what brought thunder to his bat. “I was really pissed off when I went to hit and I think that’s part of why I hit it so hard.”

In addition to now owning the top two exit velocities in Major League Baseball this season, Cruz became the first player in the Statcast Era with two hits of at least 120 mph in the same game. He also holds the Pirates’ 13 hardest-hit balls since tracking started in 2015.

“Speechless. Honestly, seeing that, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Nick Gonzales, who delivered the walk-off single in the 10th. “I was saying it’s a little frustrating because of how he hits it so hard so easily. It’s amazing to watch.”

It would have been easy for Cruz to let his first-inning miscue affect him the rest of the game, but instead, the 25-year-old used it as motivation to produce an other-worldly performance.

Cruz credits infield coach Mendy López with helping him put his error behind him, and his manager came away impressed with how everything was handled.

“He stayed locked in. We had a play in the first we should have made,” said Derek Shelton. “I think if you ask Oneil, he’s going to tell you he should have made it. But the thing about it is I think we’re seeing Oneil continuing to get better, continue to mature, because he did not let it affect him the rest of the game.

“His at-bats continue to be good, they continue to be solid, and he ended up getting the big hit to tie it there. Proud of him because of the fact that he stayed with it.”

Cruz’s role in perhaps the biggest victory of the season for the Pirates was vital. Without his contributions at the plate and his clutch hit in the ninth, the Giants would be shaking hands on the field after the game.

As for the win, it could be something that further sparks the Pirates amidst a better stretch of play of late.

“It means a lot, obviously, just to be able to come back,” said Cruz. “The energy came back at the end of the game. It says a lot for our team.”

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