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Pirates’ Offense Finally Breaks Out in Paul Skenes’ Major-League Debut

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Michael A. Taylor, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Paul Skenes garnered most of the headlines in his major-league debut, but it was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense that was responsible for delivering a win against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on Saturday.

A seemingly unfathomable statement considering how both Skenes and the Bucs’ bats have been trending this season.

There has not been a debut as anticipated as the Pirates’ first-overall draft pick since perhaps Stephen Strasburg with the Washington Nationals in 2010.

The offense, meanwhile, has been scuffling for most of the season. Entering play — and still holding up — the Pirates were near the bottom in most of the major offensive categories.

Yet the Pirates belted five home runs in what turned out to be a 10-9 shootout, a score nobody saw coming in a battle of the game’s top pitching prospect and left-hander Justin Steele, who finished fifth in the National League Cy Young race last season.

The game was delayed by nearly two-and-a-half hours but the Pirates did damage on both sides of the intermission. The veterans in the lineup did a lot of the heavy lifting.

“Yeah and I think that’s important and I think that’s what veterans do,” manager Derek Shelton said after the game. “They don’t let how long you sit or what goes on affect them and neither one of those guys did.”

Connor Joe opened the scoring with a three-run home run off of Steele in the third inning. For most of the season, Joe has provided the Pirates with the most consistent at-bats and his big swing provided jubilation to the nearly 35,000 fans in attendance.

Shortly after the fans sat back in their seats, they were back on their feet again. Oneil Cruz stepped into the box right after Joe and connected on a solo shot to right-center field.

It was one of two hits on the night for Cruz, who also lined a 119.7 mph double in the fifth.

“He continues to have good at bats. Really consistent at bats,” said Shelton. “The homer he hit early was a laser. And then the double … I mean, he’s really starting to feel it a little bit.”

In the fourth, Michael A. Taylor hit an opposite-field two-run homer over the Clemente Wall for his first long ball with the Pirates.

The two-run shot gave Taylor his first RBIs since Apr. 3.

“He’s been working really hard, he’s starting to have better swings,” Shelton said. “I think hopefully there’s a little bit of relief, gets his first home run, checks it off. The thing I liked about it is he drove that ball to right field so that means he’s staying on the ball.”

The Cubs took the lead in a rain-interrupted fifth inning as a trio of Pirates’ relivers lost control of the strike zone, leading to a seven-run inning for Chicago.

As the Pirates came to bat in the bottom of the fifth trailing by a run, they kept up their hitting ways.

With two aboard, Yasmani Grandal hammered a three-run homer to right field to reclaim the lead for the Pirates. As with Taylor, it was Grandal’s first with the Pirates.

“It always feels good to put your team on top,” Grandal said on his clutch home run. “Having the lead there for a while, being on a roll, then all of a sudden them tying it and then going up, it was a huge hit, but if we get hit we’re gonna hit right back. We were able to do that tonight.”

Andrew McCutchen hit a solo home run into the bullpens in center field to give the Pirates a home run in four-consecutive innings.

Not only was it a relief for McCutchen, who was robbed of a homer in Friday’s game, but it served to be the difference maker.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs plated a run off of David Bednar, but he recorded the final outs to give the Pirates a one-run victory.

Maybe the Pirates’ performance on Saturday will ignite an offense that hasn’t caught fire in a game in nearly a month. The 10 runs the Pirates scored were their most in a game this season and it felt like it was their first capable performance since scoring nine runs against the Phillies on Apr. 14.

Maybe all the doctor ordered to fix the Pirates’ offense is a promotion for their top pitching prospect. That’s how that works, right?

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