Oneil Cruz promised there were plenty of hard hits traveling long distances to come for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he didn’t disappoint in his long-awaited season debut.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound shortstop put on a dazzling display of speed, arm strength and power at the plate that showed why he was their top prospect, setting some Statcast records along the way.
Not to be overshadowed, outfielder Bligh Madris made Pirates history by becoming the first player to have two RBIs and a stolen base in his major league debut — and added a single and a double for good measure.
Energized by the excitement provided by the rookies — who combined for five hits, three runs and six RBIs — the Pirates crushed the Chicago Cubs, 12-1, Monday night before a crowd of 11,312 at PNC Park.
“It’s exciting,” Cruz said through team translator Mike Gonzalez. “To be able to see Bligh have such an amazing game and play ball the way that he does, and also for us to just bring in that energy and help the team win, it’s amazing for me.”
It was the biggest blowout win of the season for the Pirates, marking only the second time they scored double-digit runs. The first came on May 25 in a 10-5 win over the Colorado Rockies.
Cruz went 2 for 5 with four RBIs, including a three-run double, while Madris went 3 for 4 with two RBIs to become the first Pirates player with three hits in his debut since Jason Kendall on April 1, 1996.
JT Brubaker (1-7) earned his first victory of the season after tossing six scoreless innings, allowing five hits and three walks with one hit batsman and a wild pitch while striking out five.
“He’s pitched way better than that, and he deserved to get a win because he’s pitched well in some games that we haven’t played great,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said, “so I was really happy for him.”
The Cubs threatened to score in the first inning when Rafael Ortega singled to right and broke for home on Ian Happ’s double to center. Ortega took a wide turn around third, however, and second baseman Hoy Park took Bryan Reynolds’ relay throw and fired it to catcher Tyler Heineman to throw Ortega out at the plate.
The Pirates took a 3-0 lead in the second inning when Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis drew walks and Cruz hit a chopper that bounced off the glove of Cubs second baseman Jonathan Villar for an error.
That loaded the bases for Madris in his first major league at-bat. The 26-year-old, who started in right field, didn’t get to take batting practice because of pregame rain. Even so, he sliced Caleb Kilian’s 1-1 sinker into right-center for his first career hit, a two-run single, and some relief.
“You feel that weight lifted off your shoulders a little bit. Just nice to get the first one out of the way,” Madris said. “I felt pretty relaxed my first AB. I just tried to calm myself down, not do too much. It was nice when you see that ball get through to the grass. I was like, ‘Wow, first hit, couple RBIs. That’s unbelievable for the first one.’”
Madris then recorded his first stolen base as Tyler Heineman struck out, putting runners on second and third. Madris became the first Pirates player since Andrew McCutchen in 2009 (and third overall) to have a hit, an RBI and a stolen base in his debut, and the first to have two RBIs and a stolen base since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920. Madris also became the fifth Pirates player to record a hit in his debut this season, joining Jack Suwinski, Cal Mitchell, Canaan Smith-Njigba and Liover Peguero.
Hoy Park hit a sacrifice fly to left field, as Cruz sprinted at an elite speed of 31.5 feet per second and touched home plate as he slid past catcher Willson Contreras to beat Happ’s throw for a 3-0 Pirates lead. Cruz would record the top three fastest sprint speeds by a Pirate, later clocking in at 30.7 and 30.3.
In the top of the third, Cruz also recorded the fastest throw by any major leaguer this season, by Statcast, by firing it 96.7 mph to first baseman Michael Chavis to get Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. Only San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has ever recorded a faster throw in the Statcast era, at 97.3 mph on Sept. 20, 2020.
“That’s going to flow,” Cruz said, with a smile. “Whatever’s going to get broken is going to get broken.”
The Pirates piled on four more runs in the third when Kilian lost control. The right-hander walked Reynolds and Suwinski and gave up a single to Vogelbach to load the bases, then threw a wild pitch that allowed Reynolds to score for a 4-0 lead.
After Chavis walked to reload the bases, Cruz cracked a fastball with a 112.9-mph exit velocity — the best by a Pirates player this season — to left-center for a bases-clearing double that he tried to stretch into a triple but was thrown out at third.
By then, the Pirates led, 7-0.
The Cubs didn’t score until Tyler Beede replaced Brubaker in the seventh, and Happ singled to score Alfonso Rivas to cut it to 7-1.
The Pirates stretched their lead with a five-run seventh. After a leadoff single by Reynolds and a double down the first base line that was clocked at 107.5 by Suwinski, Vogelbach drove an Alec Mills fastball off the center field wall for a two-run double and 9-1 lead.
Cruz singled to right to score Vogelbach for a 10-1 lead. Madris singled to put runners on the corners for Heineman, who doubled to the right field corner to score Cruz to make it 11-1. Hoy Park hit another sacrifice fly to score Madris for a 12-1 lead.
“We’ve had a lot of celebrations for guys’ first hits, debuts, everything like that,” Chavis said. “It’s always fun getting to be part of that. It’s keeping it fresh as well. I think one of the big things about when a guy debuts is it’s kind of a reminder for guys who have been around for a while how special it is and how special being here every day is. For me, it’s just something that’s a reminder not to take it for granted. It’s just a blessing getting reminded so often right now.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .