PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates faced arguably their biggest test of the season on Monday night at PNC Park.
The Atlanta Braves, the team with the best record in the league, came to town. Oh yeah, the Pirates were also facing a pitcher with over 30 more strikeouts than anyone else in the league entering play in Spencer Strider.
Thanks to key contributions from a handful of their rookie players, the Pirates were able to defeat the Atlanta Braves 7-6.
It initially looked like it was going to be a long night for the Pirates’ offense. Instead, it was a short night for their mound opponent.
Strider retired the first five batters he faced and struck out three in a row before Endy Rodriguez roped a double to right with two outs in the bottom of the second.
Although the Pirates didn’t end up scoring in the inning, Rodriguez’s knock was a big one and helped spark what turned out to be an unexpected big night for the bats.
“When you’re facing a guy like that, that has strikeout stuff… then you get that first hit. For a young group… There’s some confidence like, ‘Hey we can get after this guy a little bit.’ Then we had momentum built the next inning on it,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.
The Pirates sure did have some momentum going into the third.
The bats broke out for six runs against Strider in the third inning and they sent 11 men up to the plate.
Liover Peguero sparked the inning with a leadoff double and singled home another run in his second turn to the plate. Rookies Jared Triolo and Henry Davis combined for three RBIs on a base hit each.
“They handled it really well,” said Shelton. “We did a nice job with our approach off Strider. We came in, were aggressive, had good at-bats. And just continued to build off them, especially with two outs.”
Triolo’s contributions weren’t all with the bat, even though he recorded a pair of hits and reached base safely on three occasions.
After a 1 hour and 18 minute long rain delay concluded, Triolo made an impressive over-the-shoulder catch near the foul line in shallow left field.
At the time, the Braves had runners on the corners with only one out, making the catch even more impactful.
“It was probably the biggest play of the game, for a couple reasons,” Shelton said. “Number one, the situation and where the runners were at. And number two, we sat in a rain delay for an hour and 15 minutes. Then you gotta get cranked up and make that play and I think it shows you how good a defensive player he is.”
On the pitching side of things, Carmen Mlodzinski was called upon in another big spot. The rookie right-hander was brought into the game to face potential MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. with two outs and runners on the corners.
Mlodzinski got Acuña to flyout to center to end the inning and went on to toss 1.1 innings of scoreless relief, lowering his season ERA to a minuscule 1.99.
“He goes right at people. The stuff itself is good, but I think the biggest thing is… he’s pitched himself into leverage situations. And there’s no bigger leverage situation then going through than heart of the order,” Shelton said.
The ‘Young Bucs,’ as they’re affectionally referred to as, have come up big at times this season. But not to the extent to what they did on Monday night against an incredibly tall order.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Triolo. “Everybody we have in here, we’re just having a lot of fun. Winning is a lot more fun than losing for sure and I think you can tell when we win games, they’re pretty exciting.”
The Pirates have three more chances this week to continue to show what they are capable of doing against the best team in the league.
The second game of this four-game series will take place on Tuesday night with Mitch Keller on the mound.