The bases were filled with two outs when Jacob Stallings came on to hit the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher did not think of the heroics by hitting a home run after popping out in a similar situation earlier in the game.
When Stallings turned a waist-high inside pitch, the New York Mets pointed closer to Edwin Diaz toward the sky to signal a flying ball. Stallings held on to his bat and walked slowly as he watched the ball sail towards the crooked corner near the bad post in the left field, where Dominic Smith jumped on the fence with an outstretched glove.
“I did not even run properly when I hit it,” Stallings said. “I figured he would either catch it or it would be a home run, so I figured I might as well just stand there and watch and see what happened.”
A Saturday night that began with the Pirates honoring their world championships in 1971 ended with the Stallings hitting a walk-off grand slam to achieve an epic comeback as the Pirates collected from a six-run deficit for a 9-7 victory before a season-best spectator of 27,222 at PNC Park.
“Wow,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton. “It was a stupid comeback, man.”
It was the third walk-off grand slam in ballpark history: Brian Giles hit the first in a 9-8 win over the Houston Astros on July 28, 2001; and Rob Mackowiak struck one in a 9-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the first game of a doubles on May 28, 2004, hours after the birth of his son, Garrett.
It was the sixth career walk-off hit for Stallings, a 346-foot explosion for his career-highest eighth homer this season. It came on the first pitch he saw, a 97.8-mph four-stitch fastball from Diaz that had touched 100 on heaters against both John Nogowski and Gregory Polanco.
“He was aggressive. He was ready to strike. Against a guy who threw 100, he picked up and kept the ball fair, ”Shelton said. “When he hit it, I knew he was getting enough of it. I just did not know if he would keep it fair. He did. He really stepped up. It was excellent. ”
Stallings’ explosion ignited the fuse for the celebration one evening, aptly ending with fireworks. First base coach Tarrik Brock shook hands and third base coach Joey Cora bowed as Stallings rounded the bases before being bullied by his teammates at home.
“I saw Joey a little when I left him, but it was not registered. Then I watched it over and over again what he was doing and I do not know it was a bit funny, ”said Stallings. “I’m kind of a sucker for the highlights of the season. It’s the only time I’m really getting emotional and I do not know why. I just love watching teammates cheer for each other in moments. Seeing the reaction of the excavation was pretty cool. ”
It was a wild end to a game that was entirely Mets (47-42) as Tyler Megill kept the Pirates (36-56) unbeaten for six innings and Trevor May stranded runners on second and third in the seventh to maintain a 6- 0 lead.
Third baseman JD Davis (3 vs. 4) hit two-run homers in the fourth and sixth innings from Pirates starter Wil Crowe for a 4-0 lead. The Mets added two more runs from relay Kyle Keller in the seventh as Luis Guillorme reached the fault of third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and scored on a double to center by hitmaker Travis Blankenhorn for a 5-0 lead and Jeff McNeil’s single scored Blankenhorn to 6-0.
The Pirates gathered with a five-run eighth against Seth Luo, highlighted by Wilmer Difos’ three-run homer. Bryan Reynolds led with a walk, Ben Gamel followed with a single to the right and Nogowski doubled to the left to score Reynolds to make it 6-1.
That put runners in second and third place for right-hander Gregory Polanco, who was reinstated Saturday from the injured list and pulled a turn to load the bases. After Stallings showed up for second place, Kevin Newman hit a double throw for an infield single. Difo followed with a 412-foot knife-hit drive to the right, his second homer in as many games, to make it 6-5.
“Being able to get off the bench, I’m a guy who goes up to the box and takes my batsman, just trying to get a good contact hit, get the ball in play, make sure to get on base,” said Difo through translator Mike Gonzalez. “But to get another home run, especially in such a situation to help the team get closer to a win, is an indescribable feeling.”
Mets midfielder Brandon Nimmo, however, quickly dampened the crowd by hitting a solo homer to center Clay Holmes (3-2) to start the ninth with a 7-5 lead.
Diaz had control issues from the start, hitting lead-off batter Ke’Bryan Hayes with a pitch and walking Reynolds before hitting Ben Gamel. Nogowski singled to load the bases for Polanco, who struck out and looked at a 3-2 fastball in the outer corner.
It set the stage for the Stallings, whose slam sparked a wild party from a crowd divided between both Mets and Pirates fans.
“It was pretty cool,” Stallings said. “Certainly one I will remember.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer at Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .