The Pittsburgh Pirates were already down 3-0 in the 4th inning — a deficit that looked well on it’s way to expanding. Edinson Volquez was starting to struggle, allowing a leadoff double to Chris Valaika and a walk to Mike Olt.
And then, in one 5-4-3 fell swoop, the inning was over. Valaika, Olt, and Matt Szczurall all out. And it was started by, who else? Josh Harrison.
Immediately, Harrison was thinking triple play.
“Hit hard enough to my right, one step. I knew for sure double play. Szczur can run. But it was just one of those ones that had me going to the bag and I knew we had a shot,” Harrison said.
Hurdle, too, thought triple play from the moment the ball was hit, traveling down the 3rd base line. And it was executed to perfection, starting with Harrison’s quick 3rd base tag and strong throw to second base.
“Very quick first step by J-Hay. The tag, excellent throw. Walker with a clean turn and just the finish on the end,” Hurdle said.
Volquez, who pitched seven innings with four hits, one walk, and an earned run, was quite frank of the effect Harrison and the triple play had on the inning.
“He saved that inning with that play,” Volquez said.
There was palpable energy amongst the sellout crown and the Pirates clubhouse following the triple play, Hurdle said. With that spark of energy, Neil Walker hit a solo shot to center in the 4th, and the Pirates batted around in a six run 5th, leading to a 7-3 Pirates victory.
“Any time you turn a triple play, I think you’re going to feel an instant boost of energy,” Hurdle said. “Definitely a tipping point in the game for us today. Helped Edinson out, helped us out.”
And who started that six run 5th? Yeah, that guy again. This time, it was Harrison’s 35th double of the year to score Jordy Mercer and Gregory Polanco and knot the score at 3-3.
“Put a good swing on the ball, and it found [its way] down the line,” Harrison said.
Hurdle remarked that he doesn’t take anything for granted that any of his players do. But he and his players have come to expect Harrison to make these game-changing type plays.
At one point, though, there was a time that nobody expected this from Harrison. They didn’t expect him to by a quality utility player, let alone an All-Star and possible batting champion.
“The challenge with Josh is that he provided some great spurts for us, basically every time he was put into the lineup he would provide that burst of energy. He would go out and get some enormous hits for us. But then the other team would start to pay a little more attention to him and would identify his flaws and expose his flaws,” Neal Huntington said. “I’ve admitted more than one time this summer that we might have underestimated Josh.”
Might? Nobody would have ever, in his or her right mind, predicted this outcome for Harrison.
“He seems to give us big at bat after big at bat, consistent hard contact, so he’s really made the pitchers come to him more this year,” Huntington said. “Now he’s filled in at 3rd base and obviously shown he can play a good defensive third.
This is who Harrison is now; a smooth fielding, dynamic, clutch hitting, burst of energy. When the Pirates need a big play, Harrison is often the one to make it. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. He was that today. He’s been that all season. And because of that, he could be that in October.