Friday Focus: The Pirates Unexpected Collision with the Future
It was an ordinary game in the middle of April that pitted the Pittsburgh Pirates against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park. The Pirates had started the season with much promise, as the pitching staff that was expected to be the anchor of the club was performing above those very expectations. Jordan Lyles was pitching like a complete steal as the number five starter and the offense was ice cold. Nobody had really gained traction as of yet, but Josh Bell was just starting to find it. None of us had a clue just what he found, but Bell was about to catch fire.
Then it happened. Erik Gonzalez sprinting out toward centerfield tracking a pop fly off the bat of Yangervis Solarte, Starling Marte sprinted in for the ball. If you were watching, you saw it coming. People in the left field bleachers yelled 'look out!' Gonzalez and Marte collided and the impact was severe. Two players with speed came to a sudden stop and lie on the grass one writhing the other nearly motionless. You could hear the hit from the stands, and not the way you do at a football game where plastic and fiberglass create an echo as they collide. This was the thud and crack of actual flesh and bone.
The park fell silent, I mean as soon as the 18,000 strong gasps ended there wasn’t another sound until Erik Gonzalez was helped up. He walked off under his own power but visibly favoring his shoulder. Marte was carted off as a precaution, riding off to roars.
The situation looked bleak. Starling Marte had been one of the players having success at the plate to open the season and anchored the defense. Kevin Newman whom Gonzalez had beaten out for starting short stop duties was himself on the IL with a finger he banged up messing with a pitching machine of all things.
This moment would lead the Pirates to make moves that would transform the lineup for the rest of 2019 and beyond. Cole Tucker an exciting first round draft pick with an electric smile and energetic playing style and, newly acquired outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds, picked up in the Andrew McCutchen trade, were called up to fill the void. Tucker carried with him expectation and excitement, everyone expected he would cement himself and grab hold of the position. We had all prematurely written off Newman after one month of baseball. He delivered quickly too, with speed and burst, a splash of power and a smooth glove capable of dynamic range that was more than welcome playing next to Colin Moran. Less was known or expected from Mr. Reynolds, in fact he didn’t even seem all that excited about being in the Big Leagues. We’d soon come to see that quiet confidence wasn’t an act, it was just Bryan Reynolds.
Eventually Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker started splitting time as Tucker’s bat went stone cold. Kevin Newman then proceeded to tear into a five-month effort to show all of us just how wrong we were and, in the process, take a firm grasp of short stop and the leadoff position. Bryan Reynolds wasn’t supposed to play much, but he started hitting right away and never stopped. Right handed, left handed, day games, night games, cold weather….well, you get it. Reynolds finished fourth in rookie of the year voting in 2019.
Without that collision, its possible Newman never gets a chance to take hold of his position. The team showed about the same confidence level in Newman as the fans when they traded for Gonzalez to be an insurance policy. Reynolds most likely would have continued to dominate AAA pitching for the better part of 2019, and we never would have seen Cole Tucker flash the future and charisma he brings to the table.
Injury is never a positive thing, but this one instance forced the club to bring the future into the now and because of that one moment, we have two fewer questions as we enter 2020.
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