"Oh, we'll hit. We're all gonna hit."
This beckons way back to Bradenton. It was Josh Bell when I asked him and everyone else down there a billion questions about how the Pirates' bats might support their superlative pitching staff. And across the board, the answers essentially echoed Bell's. Confidently, too. No hedging. No hesitation.
On this remarkable Monday night at PNC Park, this remarkably resilient bunch, still contending in the face of two dozen different names on Major League Baseball's injured list, got three home runs out of Bell.
... in going 4 for 6 with seven RBIs, 13 total bases and a curtain call in an 18-5 annihilation of the Cubs. Heck, he nearly had a fourth home run, though that was tracked down on the last few pebbles of the left-field lava.
My goodness, he achieved this:
I don't even know what to say to that.
And yet, he'd amazingly have ample company on offense here: Adam Frazier and Colin Moran each had five hits. Frazier's included four doubles, tying the major-league record for a game and matching the franchise standard set by Paul Waner in 1932. Jung Ho Kang homered. Add up the four starting infielders -- Bell, Frazier, Moran and Kang -- and they amassed 10 extra-base hits, the first time an infield achieved that since the 1925 Cardinals. Add up the lineup as a whole, and all 11 players who had an at-bat -- pinch-hitter Jose Osuna homered, and pitchers Trevor Williams and Steven Brault each singled -- had at least one hit.
It was 18 runs, 23 hits and 45 total bases, the most since the franchise record of 47 on Aug. 1, 1970.
So, uh, yeah, the moment seemed sublime to remind Bell of his remark from a few months back:
"I felt, like, coming into camp, we knew that we could be a force," he replied. "And now, we're showing it. This last month has been ... unbelievable."
It has, and that matters infinitely more than any one night, particularly one in which Chicago's starter, Adbert Alzolay, lasted two whole innings in his third big-league appearance. Because this isn't about a night or a week or even the month of June that Bell referenced in which the Pirates collectively slashed .288/.342/.478 for an .820 OPS that was fourth-best in the majors, second only to the Braves in the National League.
As I see it, it's more about the blossoming of several individuals beyond Bell:
• Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates' most productive rookie since a baby-faced Jason Bay, is at .351/.415/.541, among the best of anyone in the game. If he hadn't spent the season's opening three weeks in the minors -- not a criticism -- he'd be an MVP candidate right alongside Bell.
None of this fazes him, either. I asked the kid before the game what's been most satisfying to date, and he replied with a smile: "Just having fun. I like that I'm having fun."
• Kevin Newman, obliterating doubters -- I was within those ranks -- is at .327/.372/.482 and was benched Monday ... because he'd just seen a 19-game hitting streak end over the weekend. He might be the shortstop no one thought the Pirates had.
"It feels good to contribute," he said before the game.
• Corey Dickerson, finally healthy again after a banged-up spring carried into a banged-up April, has been back for 20 games and is 20 for 58, a .345 clip, with 15 RBIs and, uh, the dude doubles on bounced pitches. He's reminded everyone how much he was missed, even as some deemed him expendable with Reynolds' rise.
"I'm just back to myself, more than anything," he told me.
• Frazier's been "frustrated," as he'd admit to me again following these five hits, but that's clearly coming to a close. Returned to leadoff with Newman's night off, he shook off a 2-for-18 trip in a big way, and his overall line is back to a decent .266/.322/.385.
He cited a freeing up of the hands.
"I watched my home runs," he said of the video work he'd been doing over the weekend in Milwaukee. "Last year, this year, all of them. And I noticed that my hands were more relaxed, not as tight and tense. I honestly think that made a huge difference."
So could he. Natural hitter.
• Then there's Moran, maybe the summer's biggest surprise. He keeps clinging to third base even as Kang rights himself. Since May 19, right around when Clint Hurdle trusted him with starting, he's 43 for 130, a .331 clip, with seven home runs and 27 RBIs.
Through most of that tear, he's looked extra comfortable going oppo, as he did three times in this game.
I asked about that afterward:
There's more, too. I'm not even mentioning Starling Marte, Elias Diaz, the whole bench.
As Bell worded it, "We're all on fire."
Credit Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz, the two-headed hitting coach tandem, as I've been reminding for months. They're being praised in every corner of the clubhouse, specifically, both names invariably included. Their general practice is to identify the opposing pitcher's worst pitching area, match that with the hitter's strength, and instruct that hitter to focus singularly on that zone.
"The key is to swing hard, swing with force," Clint Hurdle, the old hitting coach who's still peripherally involved in that instruction, explained to me before the game. "Find your area and go after the ball with bad intentions."
There's been more to the instruction, though. Bell's magnificent May was followed by a bummer in June -- .208 with four home runs -- so he, like Frazier, turned to the coaches while in Milwaukee. And it was Eckstein who identified that Bell had been opening his front shoulder too soon, reincarnating some of the inconsistent landings that plagued him most of 2018.
"I just needed to keep the shoulder square, keep the same approach, keep the power through the whole swing," Bell told me. "I had a feeling before this game it was really going to help."
He's not bad with those predictions, huh?
This team can hit. And when healthy, it can pitch. Imagine the potential convergence.
Much more from PNC Park in my Tuesday Takes.
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