It’s an illusion, Bryan Reynolds will insist, that he’s making baseball look this easy.
Kyle Crick, his teammate with the Pirates who accompanied him from the Giants in the Andrew McCutchen trade, completely concurs.
“It’s not always easy for Bryan, believe me,” Crick was telling me on this Monday night at PNC Park, well after a 9-7 loss to the Brewers all but buried Reynolds going 3 for 5 with a home run he hit and another he robbed. “He has to work through stuff, too. But the difference is, he does. And that’s why he’s going to be a player in this league a long time.”
A player in the league? How about the league’s batting champ?
It’s not easy to keep pace with all of Reynolds’ accomplishments as a rookie, but let’s start with one he achieved on this night that’s got nothing to do with being a rookie: By making five plate appearances, he finally, officially met the minimum threshold to qualify for a batting title, meaning 3.1 of those per his team’s number of games. That put him at 347, the exact number needed, and he fittingly got there in style, by rapping this double off one of the game’s most feared closers, Josh Hader …
… and that after a nails-tough seven-pitch at-bat with the Pirates down to their final out. Because that’s just how he rolls.
And now, so is this:
Crazy, isn’t it?
And the rookie stuff, too: He’s got the highest batting average to this stage of a season for any Pittsburgh rookie since Lloyd Waner’s .355 in 1927, the highest on-base percentage (.409) since ‘Poison’ brother Paul Waner’s .413 in 1926.
The backstory’s that much crazier.
If one recalls, the only reason Reynolds had to play catch-up with plate appearances was that he wasn’t promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis until April 20. And if one further recalls, the only reason he came up was the Pirates were pretty much out of healthy outfielders. And if one further recalls, even once those outfielders started returning, Reynolds was batting .345 by the end of May, making it virtually impossible even for the cheapskate front office to send him back to Indy to avoid Super-2 arbitration status down the road.
Well, he’s still here. And he’s really real.
He’d played 88 career games at the Class AA level, all in Altoona. He’d played 13 career games at the Class AAA level, all in Indianapolis. And he showed up like this in Pittsburgh as a drag-and-drop batting champ candidate.
The No. 1 reason for that, obviously, is talent. The kid’s got what Rick Eckstein calls “a natural fluidity” at the plate, meaning he gets through the zone with both ease and dexterity, able to swing authoritatively to all fields. He’s also got very good speed, a point Clint Hurdle’s made with me many times this summer in stressing how he’s been able to avoid slumps.
Remember any Reynolds slumps yet?
Nope, me neither. And that might be because he’s yet to go more than three games in a row without a hit. Closest he came was a brief 1-for-18 in late June and early July, but he blew out of that with three hits in his next four games.
The No. 2 reason is that he doesn’t let anything affect his mood much one way or the other. Befitting his favorite artist, Johnny Cash — yes, that’s Cash’s legendary ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ he uses for walkup music — he carries himself with the Man In Black’s customary cool and even speaks in a similarly deep, slow voice. (Which freaks me out at times, if I’m being candid.)
I asked Reynolds, in one of the more telling talks I’ve had with any athlete in 2019, if there’s any part of all this that’s fazed him in any way, if there’s any part that maybe intimidated him. You know, the experiences that almost all rookies have.
“Well,” he began without hesitation, “I think there was a point there about a month ago they started throwing a little more offspeed. But I mean, that happens everywhere. To everyone. You’ve always got to make adjustments to what the pitchers are doing. I try to stay locked in on whatever pitch I’m looking for. I try to see the ball. I try to hit the ball.”
So, no issue?
“They’re throwing me the kitchen sink. I’m just trying to react to it.”
That’s it? So, baseball’s easy?
“No, baseball’s tough.”
It is? OK, what makes it tough?
“Nothing specific. … I don’t know.”
He then burst into laughter.
“I got nothing on that, man. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to answer that.”
On this night, Reynolds leaped above one of the raised sections of the left-field wall to rob Milwaukee’s Mike Moustakas of a home run:
Surrounded by cameras and microphones later at his stall, he deadpanned, “It was cool.”
A little later, after Moustakas homered to right field, presumably to avoid Reynolds, it was Reynolds’ turn to clear the same Clemente Wall with this laser inside the right foul pole off Jordan Lyles:
Just another day.
Or maybe not.
“Honestly, I don’t ever look at it that way,” Reynolds told me, now sitting a bit more forward in his chair and motioning around the clubhouse. “This isn’t something I’d ever take for granted. This is what I always worked toward, what I always wanted. I knew why I was called up. I knew it was going to be tough to stay. But I also appreciated the opportunity I had and wanted to run with it. It’s felt really good to be able to do that.”
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY