Apr. 2—Join the conversation
Ke’Bryan Hayes relished the idea of playing his first Opening Day at historic Wrigley Field, as well as a chance to show his sensational September debut was a foreshadowing of future stardom.
With one swing, the Pittsburgh Pirates rookie third baseman joined some rare company in club history. Hayes hit a two-run homer over the left-field wall in the first inning, sparking the Pirates to a 5-3 victory over the defending NL Central champion Chicago Cubs on Thursday.
“That ball was a bomb,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “That wind was howling in, because the ball that (Joc) Pederson hit in the first, too, he got all over it and it didn’t get close to going out. So the ball that ‘Key’ hit was absolutely crushed. … If you can pick a way to start the season, two hitters (in) and it’s 2-0, I’d vote for that.”
Hayes became the first Pirates rookie to homer on Opening Day since Johnny Ray, who hit a solo shot off Steve Mura in an 11-7 win at the St. Louis Cardinals on April 10, 1982. Hayes, who turned 24 on Jan. 28, also became the second-youngest Pirate to homer on Opening Day. Barry Bonds was 60 days shy of his 24th birthday when he hit a solo shot off Shane Rawley in a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on April 5, 1988.
“That’s great company to be with,” said Hayes, who also homered against the Cubs in his major league debut Sept. 1. “To have my dad, my oldest brother, my niece … there also was very special. I’m sure all the people who are supporting me back home were watching, so to be able to do that on Opening Day and my debut was pretty cool.”
After Adam Frazier drew a leadoff walk, Hayes drilled a Kyle Hendricks 2-1 changeup over the mdidle of the plate 410 feet to the left-field bleachers for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. It was his sixth career home run in 25 MLB games, his second off Hendricks. Hayes faced Hendricks twice last season, going 0 for 4 in his second career game but homering in the first inning of a 2-1 win over the Cubs on Sept. 23.
“Actually, the first time I faced him, he threw me a few of those, right-on-right changeups, but they cut away,” Hayes said. “They started as strikes but cut away as balls, but that one didn’t really do anything. It stayed in the middle of the plate, so I was able to stay through it.”
The Pirates finished with nine hits, 11 walks (Colin Moran had three) and one hit batsman. The damage could have been worse if they hadn’t batted .150 (3 for 20) with runners in scoring position and stranded 15 runners on base and if not for a couple baserunning gaffes in the fourth by Anthony Alford and Dustin Fowler.
Pirates starter Chad Kuhl struggled through a 32-pitch first inning, when the Cubs cut it to 2-1 after catcher Willson Contreras scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Pederson. Kuhl allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit and three walks with two strikeouts on 63 pitches over three innings.
“I think he rebounded really well,” Shelton said. “Obviously, to control the damage in that first inning and just give up one run with that offense was really good. Then, in the third inning, it looked like that’s when he actually found his stuff and was able to execute his pitches. I honestly think weather (the game-time temperature was 36 degrees) had something to do with it.”
Frazier, who went 2 for 4 with two walks and two RBIs, singled to left to score Gregory Polanco for a 3-1 lead in the second. The Pirates padded their lead in the fifth, when Jacob Stallings roped a double to left field to score Colin Moran for a 4-2 lead. But they left the bases loaded to end the inning when Frazier grounded out to first. That changed in the seventh, when Frazier doubled to score Alford from second for a 5-2 lead.
The Pirates built momentum as the bullpen combined for 10 strikeouts. Righty Duane Underwood Jr. fanned the side in the fourth, and lefty Sam Howard whiffed the side in the sixth. At one point, Pirates relievers struck out six consecutive Cubs before Mars graduate David Bednar got pinch hitter Matt Duffy to fly out to right field to end the seventh inning.
“Guys coming in and we were able to get guys in clean innings,” Shelton said. “They kind of all just fed off each other.”
Eric Sogard led off the eighth with a double down the right-field line off Chris Stratton, ending the Cubs’ streak of innings without a hit at six. Sogard advanced to second on Ian Happ’s groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly by Contreras to cut it to 5-3. Richard Rodriguez closed out the ninth with a pair of strikeouts for the win.
The Cubs managed two hits overall.
“That’s how we’re gonna have to win games,” Shelton said. “We’re gonna have to have our bullpen be strong and and pick up innings. We’re gonna have to do things on the bases. We stole some bases today, and we moved guys. We have to be able to do that.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .