Oneil Cruz promised there were plenty of long-range hard hits for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he didn’t disappoint on his long-awaited debut of the season.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound shortstop put on a dazzling display of speed, arm strength and plate power that showed why he was their top prospect, setting Statcast records along the way.
Not to be upstaged, outfielder Bligh Madris made Pirates history by becoming the first player to have two RBIs and a stolen base in his major league debut – and added a single and a double for do good measure.
Fueled by the excitement provided by the rookies – who combined for five hits, three runs and six RBIs – the Pirates crushed the Chicago Cubs, 12-1, Monday night in front of a crowd of 11,312 at PNC Park. .
“It’s exciting,” Cruz said through team translator Mike Gonzalez. “To be able to see Bligh have such an amazing game and play the ball the way he does, and also for us to bring that energy and help the team win, that’s amazing to me.”
It was the biggest blowout win of the season for the Pirates, marking only the second time they scored double-digit runs. The first came on May 25 in a 10-5 win over the Colorado Rockies.
Cruz went 2-for-5 with four RBIs, including a three-run double, while Madris went 3-for-4 with two RBIs to become the first Pirates player with three debut hits since Jason Kendall on April 1. 1996.
JT Brubaker (1-7) earned his first win of the season after going six scoreless innings, allowing five hits and three walks with a slapped batter and a wild pitch while striking out five.
“He threw a lot better than that, and he deserved to win because he threw well in some games that we didn’t play well,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said, “so I was really happy for him.”
The Cubs threatened to score in the first inning when Rafael Ortega singled to the right and escaped for home on Ian Happ’s double at center. Ortega took a wide turn around third, however, and second baseman Hoy Park took over from Bryan Reynolds and fired him at catcher Tyler Heineman to throw Ortega home.
The Pirates took a 3-0 lead in the second inning when Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis tied and Cruz hit a chopper that bounced off Cubs second baseman Jonathan Villar’s glove for an error.
It loaded the groundwork for Madris in his first major league batting. The 26-year-old, who started in right field, was unable to practice batting due to pre-game rain. Even so, he sliced Caleb Kilian’s 1-1 lead to right center for his first career hit, a two-run single and some relief.
“You feel that weight has lifted off your shoulders a bit. It’s good to get the first one out of the way,” Madris said. “I felt pretty relaxed my first AB. I just tried to calm down, not overdo it. It was nice to see that ball go through the grass. I was like, ‘Wow, first shot , a few RBIs. It’s amazing for the first one.
Madris then recorded his first stolen base as Tyler Heineman hit, putting the runners up for second and third. Madris became the first Pirates player since Andrew McCutchen in 2009 (and third overall) to have one hit, one RBI and one stolen base on his debut, and the first to have two RBIs and one stolen base since the RBI became an official stat in 1920. Madris also became the fifth Pirates player to record a hit on his debut that season, joining Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Liover Peguero.
Hoy Park hit a sacrificial fly to left field, as Cruz sprinted at an elite speed of 31.5 feet per second and touched home plate sliding past catcher Willson Contreras to beat Happ’s pitch for a Pirates lead 3-0. Cruz would record the three fastest sprint speeds of a Pirate, later recording 30.7 and 30.3.
Top of third, Cruz also recorded the fastest pitch of any major leaguer this season, according to Statcast, throwing it 96.7 mph at first baseman Michael Chavis to get Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. Only San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has ever recorded a faster throw in the Statcast era, at 97.3 mph on September 20, 2020.
“It’s going to sink,” Cruz said, with a smile. “Everything that breaks will break.”
The Pirates racked up another four points in the third when Kilian lost control. The right-hander walked Reynolds and Suwinski and gave up a single to Vogelbach to load the bases, then threw a wild pitch that allowed Reynolds to score for a 4-0 lead.
After Chavis walked to reload the bases, Cruz cracked a fastball with an exit speed of 112.9 mph – the best by a Pirates player this season – to center left for a base-clearing double that he tried to stretch into a triple but was thrown out at third.
At that time, the Pirates were leading 7-0.
The Cubs didn’t score until Tyler Beede replaced Brubaker in the seventh, and Happ scored a single to tag Alfonso Rivas to make it 7-1.
The Pirates extended their lead with a five-point seventh. After a first Reynolds single and a first-baseline double that was clocked at 107.5 by Suwinski, Vogelbach fired an Alec Mills fastball to the center field wall for a two-run double and a lead 9-1.
Cruz singled right to tag Vogelbach for a 10-1 lead. Madris singled to put runners on the corners for Heineman, who doubled into the right corner of the field to tag Cruz to make it 11-1. Hoy Park hit another sacrificial fly to score Madris for a 12-1 lead.
“We had a lot of celebrations for guys’ early successes, debuts, everything like that,” Chavis said. “It’s always fun to be part of it. It’s also keeping it fresh. I think one of the great things about a guy’s debut is that it’s kind of a reminder to guys who’ve been here a while how special it is and how great being here all days is special. For me, it’s just something that reminds me not to take it for granted. It’s just a blessing to be reminded of it so often right now.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .