Nothing that happened Friday night in the Pirates' 8-4 win over the Mets at PNC Park might have mattered more than this:
That's Felipe Vazquez striking out Pete Alonso — the 2019 Home Run Derby champion — to end the game and to give the Pirates just their fourth win in 20 tries since the All-Star break. It was also Vazquez's third consecutive called strike, a perfect K to cap off a perfect 1-2-3 inning.
"Watching him looking at the ball, just going middle, middle — that's exciting for me," Vazquez was telling me at his locker after the game.
Think Vazquez took special notice of the man at the plate? Of course he did. Every pitcher knows Alonso, and Vazquez's fire on the mound, in particular, is undeniable. The chance to match up against this guy in this moment to end the game clearly satisfied his every craving:
Oh, Alonso saw "his match," as Vazquez put it. And then some. Just watch the GIF of the strikeout itself up there at the top again. Focus on Vazquez's windup.
Yeah. He did that.
A quick-pitch to close the game?
You'd better believe I was asking about all that sauce:
Soak it in: The laugh as the question was delivered. The smile as he finished describing it. It's all mint, but nothing compares to this line: "You gotta change sometimes just to make him look like that."
It's Vazquez flatly admitting he wanted to humble Alonso. And looking "like that" at the end of a 99-mph Vazquez heater is not a good look for any batter. Watch again, up there, exactly how disorienting it was for Alonso, the long-ball king. That little stumble forward after the strike is called? That's a man who didn't know what to make of what he just encountered. He hesitated, and the curtain dropped. Alonso was caught off-balance both mentally and physically by Vazquez, and that three-pitch masterpiece was everything, given the circumstances.
You know, like the team trying to find Vazquez a new home just 72 hours ago as Major League Baseball's trade deadline approached and passed.
"I never left, so it's not like I went away for a few days," Vazquez was telling me. "I was just on the road with the team, just waiting for an opportunity to go out there and pitch."
He finally got that opportunity Friday night, first time on the mound in anger since July 25, and he quickly gave the home crowd a refresher in everything he brings. From "The Nightmare" banner in right field flashing as he emerges from the bullpen to his music pumping him up as he jogs across the outfield to settle into his perch, it's a performance when Vazquez's number gets called.
To do what he does — and to punctuate it as he did tonight — seemed to be special for Vazquez.
"I think everybody was expecting me to get traded, but I think [Neal Huntington] did an awesome job in there, a nice job of keeping me here for the next four years I have on my contract. As long as I'm here, I'm just going to go out there and keep doing my thing."
His "thing" is pretty sweet — unless you're standing across from him and holding a chunk of lumber.
• Vazquez wasn't the only one on the theoretical trading block, and he wasn't the only one who showed up in a big way in the team's first game back from the deadline. Starling Marte has been discussed as a chip all season:
That three-run rocket in the seventh was Marte's 19th home run, his seventh since the All-Star break, and it put away what had been a fairly tight game with the Pirates up, 8-4.
• After Corey Dickerson, a veteran on an expiring contract, was dealt on July 31, it might have appeared Melky Cabrera was next. Dejan Kovacevic recently explained why keeping Cabrera and Francisco Liriano around the clubhouse might be a smart idea, but Cabrera offered a reminder that he's also pretty good at baseball with this two-run double to the Notch in the fourth that put the Pirates ahead for good, 4-3:
• I didn't even need to refresh the comments on our live file to know the reaction to Kevin Newman's blunder in the top of the seventh. He tracked a popup into shallow center, twisting, turning and missing the catch as the ball just smacked off his glove.
That error cost Richard Rodriguez a smooth outing, and it also put a run on the board for the Mets, narrowing the lead to 5-4.
That's when Newman bounced back with a gorgeous, rangy, sliding stop moving to his right then fired back across the diamond to first to end the inning. Obviously, going from error to hero feels good for any player, but for Newman, a rookie, showing that kind of poise is special.
I asked him about that:
• Trevor Williams allowed three runs through three innings, including a brutal first, but he bounced back for three consecutive shutout innings to cap his night. His final line: six innings pitched, six hits, three earned runs, three walks, two strikeouts, one wild pitch.
"It's true Trevor," Prince said. "He grinded through the first three, found a rhythm and then got through the next three innings. His slider showed up, just like it was in New York. They put some good at-bats on him early, but he didn't get ruffled or anything like that. He moved forward, just like he always does."
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