Paul Skenes’ MLB debut was unforgettable for the most unexpected reason


For the first time in years, the eyes of the baseball world were actually firmly focused on what was going on at PNC Park in Pittsburgh this past Saturday night. While a divisional weekend tilt between the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates would usually be enough to get some people to fill the seats in that incredibly picturesque ballpark, there was one big reason why the stadium had an electric feel to it on this particular night.

Indeed, this was the highly-anticipated debut of MLB’s top prospect Paul Skenes and Pirates fans were flocking to the ballpark to witness what could be a turning point for Pittsburgh and their aspirations of potentially returning to relevancy in the near future. Pirates fans showed up to PNC Park expecting to see flashes of brilliance from the first overall pick in last year’s draft and to his credit, Skenes did deliver in that regard.

While Skenes’ first four innings as a big leaguer weren’t exactly spectacular or dominant, the highly-touted LSU product did bring the heat while he was out there. His fastball averaged 100.1 mph on the day and his slider and split finger pitches showed plenty of life as well. While the Cubs did tag him for two walks, six hits (including a homer) and three runs, Skenes showed that he should be very tough for opposing hitters to deal with as he finished his four innings with seven strikeouts on the day. Not bad for a pressure-packed debut, right?

On any other day, Paul Skenes’ debut would’ve been the main story and an in-depth review and recap of his first major league appearance would’ve been well-warranted. Instead, what happened immediately after Livvy Dunne’s boyfriend exited the game needs to be discussed because it’s yet another example of how anything can happen at the ballpark on any given day. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we’re probably never going to see a frame of baseball quite like the fifth inning that took place between the Pirates and Cubs this past Saturday.

It all started with the Pirates up 6-1 and Skenes trying to get through five in order to become the pitcher of record. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Mike Tauchman and Seiya Suzuki ended up chasing Paul Skenes from the game with a leadoff double and a single, respectively. Kyle Nicolas came in for relief for the Pirates and things actually got off to a solid start for Nicolas as he struck out Cody Bellinger and Christopher Morel to get one out away from cleaning up the mess that Skenes had left behind. Little did anybody in the ballpark know that the swinging strike that Nicolas racked up to sit down Morel ended up being the last strike that everybody in that ballpark would see for a good lil’ minute and things started to go way, way downhill for Pittsburgh’s pitching staff in this inning alone.

Ian Happ got hit by a pitch to load up the bases. Four pitches later, it was 6-2 Pirates after a bases-loaded walk. Eight pitches later, it was 6-3 Pirates after a bases-loaded walk. Twelve pitches later, it was 6-4 Pirates after a bases-loaded walk. After 13 disastrous pitches, Kyle Nicolas was relieved in favor of Josh Fleming, who calmly proceeded to put out the fire and help the Pirates escape with their lead still intact. Actually, I’m just kidding with you because five pitches later, it was 6-5 Pirates after a bases-loaded walk.

The next run that the Cubs scored didn’t come from a bases-loaded walk — instead, it came from Mike Tauchman hitting a ground ball in the pouring rain that even Oneil Cruz couldn’t do anything with. The infield single tied the game at six and both teams proceeded to go into the clubhouse for around two-and-a-half hours for a rain delay. Once they returned to action, the Pirates understandably gave the ball to Colin Holderman since it really wouldn’t make sense to throw out the same pitcher after that long of a delay. Surely this would result in Holderman finally getting the out that Pittsburgh craved in order to finally get out of this tortuous inning, right? Right?

Four pitches later, it was 7-6 Cubs after a bases-loaded walk. Five pitches later, it was 8-6 Cubs after a bases-loaded walk. Yep. Two pitches later, the inning was finally over after Holderman got pinch-hitter Nick Madrigal to line out to mercifully bring this frame to a close. All told, the Cubs finished that inning with three hits, six walks (all with the bases loaded) and seven runs scored in order to turn the game around and leave everybody in PNC Park stunned at what they had just witnessed.

According to Sarah Langs of MLB.com, all types of history was made in just that frame alone. This was only the third time since 1957 that a team had given up at least six bases-loaded walks in one game, it was the most bases-loaded walks in one inning since the White Sox took eight free passes in the seventh inning of a game that took place in 1959 and the six walks that the Cubs took in the fifth inning on Saturday was two more than any team had drawn in a single inning in the past 50 seasons. I’m certain that people were going to the ballpark hoping to see history being made with it being Paul Skenes’ debut but I’m also certain that nobody expected the history being made to come from Pittsburgh’s own futility to throw a daggone strike.

Anyways, this surely should’ve been a dagger of an inning and the Cubs would play spoiler on their way to victory, right? Well, the beauty of baseball is that momentum is only as good as whatever the next inning brings you and what was waiting for Chicago on the other side of that frame was a bit of revenge. Oneil Cruz got things going in the bottom of the fifth with a 119-mph laser beam of a double and then following a two-out walk, Yasmani Grandal pushed the Pirates back into the lead with a majestic home run to the seats in right field. All of a sudden, everything that the Cubs had done (or, conversely, the failures of Pittsburgh’s pitching staff) had been wiped away thanks to Grandal picking a lovely time to hit his first homer of the season.

Once the Pirates had an all-new lease on life as far as this game was concerned, they made few mistakes from that point forward. Andrew McCutchen gave Pittsburgh some breathing room with a dinger of his own and the Pirates’ pitching staff held the Cubs to just one run from that point forward. Nearly five-and-a-half hours after the game had started, Paul Skenes’ first start as a big leaguer was indeed a memorable one — just for reasons that nobody could’ve possibly anticipated heading into this game. Nobody could’ve expected to see six bases-loaded walks in one inning. If “less than nobody” exists, then that’s how many people figured that the team that gave up those disastrous walks would end up bouncing back immediately and winning the game.

That’s baseball for you, though. For all the statistical and sabermetric advances that have been made in order to push the game and the way we think about the game forward, this is still an incredibly weird sport where anything can happen on any given night. Good luck trying to predict when we’ll see another inning even close to being like the one that took place this past Saturday!





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