Oneil Cruz promised there would be plenty of long-haul hard hits for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he didn’t disappoint in his long-awaited debut of the season.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound shortstop put on a dazzling display of speed, arm strength and power on the record that showed why he was their top contender, while setting some Statcast records in the process.
Not to be overshadowed, outfielder Bligh Madris made Pirates history by becoming the first player to have two RBIs and a stolen base in his major league debut — adding a single and a double to the mix.
Fueled by the excitement of the rookies – who combined for five hits, three runs and six RBIs – the Pirates defeated the Chicago Cubs 12-1 in front of a crowd of 11,312 at PNC Park on Monday night.
“It’s exciting,” Cruz said through team translator Mike Gonzalez. “To see Bligh have such a great game and play the ball the way he does and also just to see us bring that energy and help the team win is great for me.”
It was the biggest blowout win of the season for the Pirates and marked only the second time they hit 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-carry double, while Madris went 3 for 4 with two RBIs to become the first Pirates player with three hits on his debut since Jason Kendall on April 1, 1996.
JT Brubaker (1-7) earned his first win of the season after throwing six scoreless innings, allowing five hits and three walks with a batter and a wild pitch while striking out five.
“He played a lot better and he deserved a win because he played well in some games that we didn’t play great,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, “so I was very happy for him.”
The Cubs threatened to score in the first inning when Rafael Ortega singled to the right and came home from Ian Happ’s double down the middle. Ortega turned wide around third, however, and second baseman Hoy Park took Bryan Reynolds’ relay shot and fired it at catcher Tyler Heineman, throwing Ortega to the plate.
The Pirates took a 3-0 lead in the second inning as Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis pulled walks and Cruz hit a chopper that bounced off Cubs second baseman Jonathan Villar’s glove due to a mistake.
That loaded the bases for Madris in his first major league at-bat. The 26-year-old, who started in right field, did not come to practice before the game because of the rain. Still, he clipped Caleb Kilian’s 1-1 sinker to right center for his first career goal, a two-run single and some relief.
“You feel the weight lift off your shoulders a little. Just nice to get the first one out of the way,” said Madris. “I felt pretty relaxed on my first AB. I was just trying to calm down, not to do too much. It was nice to see the ball hitting the grass. I was like, ‘Wow, first hit, some RBIs. That’s incredible for the first one.’”
Madris then recorded his first stolen base when Tyler Heineman slammed and put the runners in second and third place. Madris became the first Pirates player since Andrew McCutchen in 2009 (and third overall) to have a hit, an RBI, and a stolen base on his debut, and the first to have two RBIs and a stolen base since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920. Madris also became the fifth Pirates player to score a hit on his debut that season, along with Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Liover Peguero.
Hoy Park hit a victim fly to left field as Cruz sprinted at a top speed of 31.5 feet per second and touched home plate as he slipped past catcher Willson Contreras to hit Happ’s throw to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. Cruz would record the top three fastest sprint speeds by a Pirate, later coming in at 30.7 and 30.3.
At the top of third, Cruz also recorded the fastest throw of any major league this season, according to Statcast, firing it at first baseman Michael Chavis at 96.7 mph 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.
“This will flow,” Cruz said with a smile. “Whatever breaks, breaks.”
The Pirates put down four more runs in the third when Kilian lost control. Leading Reynolds and Suwinski on foot, the right-hander passed a single to Vogelbach to load the bases and then threw a wild throw that allowed Reynolds to take a 4-0 lead.
After Chavis walked to reload bases, Cruz cracked a fastball left down center for a base-clearing double that exited at 112.9 mph — the best by a Pirate player this season he attempted to stretch to a triple but was thrown out in third place.
Until then, the Pirates led 7-0.
The Cubs didn’t score until Tyler Beede replaced Brubaker in the seventh and Happ hit Alfonso Rivas to make it 7-1.
The Pirates extended their lead with a seventh-place finish in five heats. After a leadoff single from Reynolds and a double on the first baseline clocked at 107.5 by Suwinski, Vogelbach drove an Alec Mills fastball off the midfield wall for a two-run double and a 9-1 lead.
Cruz struck to the right to give Vogelbach a 10-1 lead. Madris hit individually to corner runners for Heineman, who doubled to the right field corner to make Cruz 11-1. Hoy Park hit another victim fly to give Madris a 12-1 lead.
“We’ve had a lot of celebrations for first hits, debuts and all that,” Chavis said. “It’s always fun to be a part of it. It also keeps it fresh. I think one of the great things about when a guy debuts is that it reminds guys who’ve been around for a while how special it is and how special it is to be here every day. For me it’s just something to remind you not to take it for granted. It’s just such a blessing to be reminded of it so often right now.”
Kevin Gorman is a contributor to the Tribune Review. You can contact Kevin via email at email@example.com or via Twitter .