Three home runs mark history for Pirates' McCutchen

Becomes 10th with franchise to achieve that, in 11-6 rout of Nationals

It is not enough to say that Andrew McCutchen had one of the great offensive performances in the Pirates' 123-year history last night, hammering three home runs and going 4 for 5 with six RBIs in an 11-6 rout of the Washington Nationals.

It is not enough to note that he became the first with this franchise to homer three times since Aramis Ramirez, April 8, 2001, in Houston, and the first to do so in Pittsburgh since Darnell Coles Sept. 30, 1987, at Three Rivers Stadium.

It is not even enough to find that the feat has been achieved only 17 times, by 10 different players, an illustrious list that includes Ralph Kiner and Willie Stargell four times each, Roberto Clemente twice, and no rookies until last night.

Not when there is so much more to it.


Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (6-5, 4.70) vs. RHP Collin Balester (1-1, 4.00).

Key matchup: Maholm vs. right-handed batters, who have a .305 average against him compared to .200 from the left side.

Of note: The Pirates' Garrett Jones led all of Major League Baseball in July with 10 home runs, a .700 slugging percentage and a 1.061 on-base plus slugging percentage.

As coach Rich Donnelly put it in a buzzing clubhouse, "You have to look at everything he's doing right now, and there's a lot."

Start with McCutchen's poise, always present, and evident even after a breathtaking achievement.

"It was just one of those days where everything worked," he said. "I got my pitches, I was able to hit them, and I was able to hit them out."

One of those days?

"It's a day I know I won't forget," he allowed, smiling slightly.

Which brings up this: The kid is 22, batting .293 in his first two months of Major League Baseball, good for third among National League rookies.

"He's a special breed," Washington outfielder Nyjer Morgan, formerly McCutchen's teammate and still a close friend, said. "He's one of the most special talents I've seen since I've been in the game. For a kid that young to have bat speed like that and the patience at the dish, there's something there the Pirates will be enjoying for a long time."

"He's ridiculous," Pirates reliever Evan Meek said. "And you know what? He's just going to get better."

Now, look at how McCutchen went about his evening ...

Leading off the Pirates' first, he lofted Craig Stammen's 1-2 fastball just out of the reach of outfielder Josh Willingham near the left foul pole.

In the third, he put down a no-doubt bunt single and sprinted all the way around on Lastings Milledge's two-run double, but, hey, who cares about bunts?

Well, manager John Russell, for one.

"That's something he's been working on," Russell said. "It was nice to see him get one of those down because it's part of his game."

In the fourth, after McCutchen's teammates already had scored twice and with a man still aboard, he went deep again, lasering Tyler Clippard's one-strike changeup just over the short fence in left.

Then, in the sixth, with two aboard, McCutchen sent Logan Kensing's 1-1 fastball to the same spot to bring an 11-4 lead.

Swinging for the fences?

"No, I've always taken pretty short, quick swings to the ball," McCutchen said. "I was looking to go to right field, but he came in, and I made an adjustment. That's all."

Three pitchers, and three shots into the bleachers, a direction in which right-handed batters mostly send balls to die in this ballpark.

The crowd of 26,855 stood and roared after the third, demanding a curtain call until McCutchen leaped up the dugout steps to doff his helmet.

"That was pretty nice," he said.

"A special night, obviously, for Andrew and with what the big crowd did," Russell said.

Alas, the crowd was not satisfied, as it stood and roared again in the seventh for his final at-bat, anticipating what would have been a franchise-record fourth home run, only to see mortality in the form of a 6-4-3 double play.

Swinging for the fences that time?

"Nope. But I did hit it hard."

McCutchen has six home runs in 51 games with the Pirates, two more than he had in 49 games with Class AAA Indianapolis.

All through his time in the minors, in fact, he had 43 home runs in 1,967 at-bats, a nothing-special ratio of one every 45 at-bats. And yet, he has insisted for years that the power would come in some form, sooner rather than later.

Was this a sign?

"I guess so," he said. "But I don't really look at myself as a power-hitter. I look at myself as someone who drives the ball to the gaps, hits line drives. And, really, other than the first one here, the other two were hit pretty well."

That was the part that most impressed Donnelly, who helped guide McCutchen through the minors as a roving instructor.

"He's hitting everything hard," Donnelly said, going back to a drilled double in McCutchen's final at-bat Friday. "That was four in a row, really, around the bunt. Even that last out was hit hard with good topspin. Good hitters can get in a groove. And he's a good hitter."

Virgil Vasquez earned the victory, charged with three runs on nine hits over five innings, but he was optioned back to Indianapolis immediately after the game. Reliever Steven Jackson will be recalled today.

Garrett Jones, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Ronny Cedeno each had two hits, as the Pirates have now taken the first two of this four-game set from last-place Washington.

First Published August 2, 2009 4:30 AM


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