Daniel Vogelbach has been in the majors since 2016 with four teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ designated hitter understands nothing is certain over the course of 162 games.
So, he wasn’t surprised when the Pirates — on the strength of his tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning —defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-3, in front of a crowd of 11,105 on Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park.
The victory gave the Pirates a series victory, 2-1, against the team Dodgers (20-9), the team with the best record in the National League and highest payroll in baseball ($289.37 million, according to spotrac.com).
The Pirates (13-17) have the third-lowest payroll ($67.39 million), but that didn’t stop Jack Suwinski, Josh VanMeter and Vogelbach from hitting 100-plus mph home runs into the right-field seats in the late innings of a tight game.
Derek Shelton, on Daniel Vogelbach’s game-changing at-bat. pic.twitter.com/OLIb7vnLid
— Jerry DiPaola (@JDiPaola_Trib) May 11, 2022
“I don’t think our club focuses on that (payroll) at all,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, pleased that his team didn’t allow the effects of Tuesday’s 11-1 defeat bleed into Wednesday.
“The days that we’ve played the poorest, it seems like we’ve been resilient and bounced back.”
Perhaps the energy Vogelbach brings to the dugout — “He talks so damn much,” manager Derek Shelton said — played a small role in the victory.
“This game’s hard. It will eat you up and spit you out. It doesn’t care,” Vogelbach said. “Something we can control every day is our attitude and our energy, and I’ve tried to be that way my whole career. Hopefully, it can rub off on some people and make this game more fun. The fun can get pushed out pretty easy if you don’t point out the fun things in it.
“You’re going to go on 10-game losing streaks, and you’re going to go on 10-game winning streaks. But if you can have fun every day, it makes those ups and downs a little better.”
The Pirates are in the midst of an up-and-down start to the season. Before the Dodgers came to town, the Pirates lost two of three to the Cincinnati Reds, who have the worst record in baseball. Even after defeating the Dodgers, the Pirates only have five victories in their past 14 games.
But all aspects of the game came together Wednesday:
• The three home runs gave the Pirates 11 in their past five games after they hit only three in the previous 11.
• Shortstop Diego Castillo, subbing for Kevin Newman who is on the injured list with a groin strain, made a leaping catch of Will Smith’s 107.2 mph line drive with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a game tied at 3.
• Pitchers Dillon Peters, the three-inning starter, Max Kranick, Wil Crowe and David Bednar kept a potent Dodgers lineup in check.
After Castillo’s catch, Crowe struck out Max Muncy with an 86 mph changeup.
“I give Crowe a ton of credit,” Shelton said. “That three could have turned to four or five or six against a really good lineup.”
Bednar, who recorded his fifth save, used his curveball to catch Cody Bellinger and Edwin Rios looking at strike three in the final two innings. Rios never took the bat off his shoulders while Bednar threw him three curves.
But it was Bednar’s fastball — and his courage to throw it — that most impressed Vogelbach.
“He’s pretty good, huh? The best arms are the guys who aren’t scared to throw their heater,” Vogelbach said. “The other thing is the mentality. He has the competitive edge.”
Added VanMeter: “The guy’s a bulldog. (He’s saying), ‘Here you go, hit it,’ and a lot of guys don’t hit it.”
• VanMeter kept his cool on a roller coaster of his own. After his home run, he booted what looked like a sure double play grounder that rocketed 97 mph off Bellinger’s bat, helping the Dodgers rally to erase the Pirates’ 3-0 lead in the seventh. Yet, he bounced back in the eighth with a triple, eventually scoring on Ben Gamel’s grounder to shortstop, avoiding the tag with a slick slide.
“There are a lot of things you can’t control, but you can always control how you respond,” VanMeter said. “It’s easy to get down after that (error) and give away an at-bat, but the good players don’t do that. That’s something I pride myself on.”
Likewise, Vogelbach didn’t let his previous 14 hitless at-bats before Wednesday stop him from going 2 for 3 with a walk.
VanMeter hopes the two victories send a message to the team.
“When you go out and take a series from a team like that, it kind of hits you in the face (and says), `You know what, we can win a lot of games this year.’
“Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going. There are going to bumps along the road. It’s a 162-game season, but I think this series was a big confidence boost for us.”
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