CINCINNATI — After hitting an impressive home run earlier in the game, Oneil Cruz’s sacrifice fly in the eighth inning snapped a 4-all tie and lifted the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday in their season opener at Great American Ball Park.
The uber-talented shortstop went 1 for 2 and drew two walks in addition to the homer and sac fly.
Speedy rookie Ji-Hwan Bae walked to start the winning rally and stole second base. After Austin Hedges’ sacrifice bunt, Bae trotted home on Cruz’s fly ball to deep left field off Buck Farmer (0-1).
Bae, a surprise starter at second base over Rodolfo Castro, went 2 for 3 with a walk.
Cruz’s leadoff home run in the third inning off a 101.3-mph fastball from Reds starter Hunter Greene made it 1-1. It came immediately after Cruz drew the first pitch-clock violation in Pirates’ history.
The ball traveled 425 feet into the right-center field seats and had a 111-mph exit velocity.
Cruz became the first Pirates’ leadoff hitter to hit a home run on opening day since Nate McLouth in 2008 and the first Pirates shortstop to go deep on opening day since Jay Bell in 1995. It was just the sixth time a major-league player homered on a pitch clocked at 103.1 mph or faster since MLB’s Statcast system began being used in 2015.
Journeyman left-handed reliever Rob Zastryzny (1-0) retired all four batters he faced for the win. The Pirates added the 31-year-old to their 40-man roster earlier in the day after he went to spring training as a non-roster invitee.
David Bednar worked around a one-out double by Jonathan India in the ninth inning for the save. India was left stranded at second base when TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley to end the game.
The Reds had tied the score at 4-all in the fifth inning when Jason Vosler pulled a two-run triple down the right-field line with two outs. That ended the day for Pirates starter Mitch Keller.
Making his first opening-day start, Keller struggled at times through 4.2 innings as he needed 100 pitches to get 14 outs. He gave up four runs and six while striking out eight and walking four.
Keller did induce 15 swings and misses, the second-highest total of his five-year career. He had 16 in a game against the Reds in 2019 as a rookie.
Keller became the Pirates’ seventh different opening-day starter in as many years, following Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl and JT Brubaker.
The Reds loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but Keller escaped by allowing only one run, which scored when Tyler Stephenson grounded into a double play.
After a leadoff double by Ji-Hwan Bae in the fourth, the Pirates scored three runs without another hit in the inning to move in front 4-1. Bryan Reynolds and Andrew McCutchen drew back-to-back walks with the bases loaded and another run came home on a wild pitch.
Spencer Steer hit a solo homer off Keller with one out in the fourth.
McCutchen tied a franchise opening day record with his three walks as he also singled and reached base four times in five plate appearances. It had been done eight other times, most recently by Colin Moran in 2021.
Returning to the Pirates after being traded to the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2018 season, McCutchen also became the 11th player in franchise history to reach base four times on opening day. Adam Frazier was the last to do so, in 2021.
The Pirates had their sixth different center fielder on opening day in as many seasons with Jack Suwinski manning the position. He followed Starling Marte, JB Shuck, Jarrod Dyson, Anthony Alford and Bryan Reynolds.
The three-game series continues at 4:10 p.m. Saturday after a day off.
Rich Hill (8-7, 4.27 for Boston in 2022) is set to make his Pirates’ debut and start against fellow left-hander Nick Lodolo (4-7, 3.66 in 2022). It will be a contrast in age as the 43-year-old Hill is the oldest player in the major leagues and Lodolo is 18 years his junior at 25.