Pirates pitching phenom Paul Skenes lives up to hype in wild, rain-delayed debut

PITTSBURGH – It rained most of Saturday in the Steel City. First rain, then walking and running, then rain again.

But for Paul Skenes, and only Paul Skenes, the sun shone in Pittsburgh.

Skenes, the best pitching prospect in the world, was both impressive and tough in his highly anticipated major-league debut. The brilliance of his talent thrilled the restless crowd at PNC Park. He became angry due to his premature departure. The final line – four innings, three runs, seven strikeouts – doesn't tell the whole story. The skeins were very good at tight pitch limits. His teammates were not Pittsburgh pitchers.

Shortly after Skane's departure in the fifth, a trio of Pirates relievers turned a 6–1 lead into an 8–6 deficit before escaping the inning. He surrendered six bases-loaded walks. Baseball never left the field. In the middle of that endless, historically embarrassing frame: a 2-hour, 20-minute rain delay. It all made for an unforgettably bizarre day and night of baseball, which began with the Pirates ultimately winning 10–9, in 5 hours and 16 minutes.

“I don't think I've ever seen anything like it,” said a drenched Pirates captain Derek Shelton breathlessly after the final out.

Before all this fuss, persistent spring rains threatened to slow down proceedings. It was a breezy Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, ahead of the most hyped Pirates game in years. For two hours before first pitch, raindrops were pattering on the giant tarpaulin protecting PNC Park's dirt field. It seems that nature, too, wanted to keep the loyal pirates from anything resembling optimism.

But the rain stopped 90 minutes before play time. Members of the Pirates field team hurried to remove the tarpaulin and prepare the field. Nestled beautifully behind the outfield fence, Pittsburgh's picturesque skyline revealed itself. The fans came into the courtyard. A spirited pop began to play from the stadium speakers. Paul Skenes' MLB debut was a successful one.

At exactly 3:22 p.m. ET, a warm ray of sunlight pierced the brown canvas of Allegheny cloud. A few moments later, like a scene from a well-worn Hallmark movie, Skenes emerged from the Pirates dugout shining and resplendent in his crisp, white home uniform. On his right hand is a black ballglove with gold lining. To his left, a bag of equipment and weighted balls for his warm-up routine. Accompanied by a procession of cameras, the 6-foot-6-inch, 235-pound runner strolled across the outfield grass toward the home bullpen and into the lights.

Another storm gathered on the horizon that would ultimately derail the day, but the crowd could not know the future. They roared with satisfaction; He had waited for a long time.

The arrival of Skenes was crowned with publicity on both irresponsible and understandable levels. Generationally gifted 21-year-olds are still 21. Both Shelton and general manager Ben Cherington tried to manage expectations during their pregame comments. But his suggestions meant nothing to the more than 34,000 people who came to experience something they wanted to remember.

Drafted first overall in the 2023 MLB Draft, Skenes entered the minor leagues faster than any No. 1 pick in more than 30 years. Built like a moose, inspired by the tenacity of a pitbull and equipped with a triple-digit fastball, Skenes struck out hitters in 27 2/3 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis. Fans and prognosticators alike were eager for the call-up. And with each minor league start, the calls intensified.

Eventually, inspired by the excellence of Skane's minor-league numbers, the Pirates relented. The team announced Wednesday that their golden child will be promoted to make his big league debut on Saturday against Chicago.

Skenes performed well considering the conditions. He punched out the first two batters he faced and retired the third, Cody Bellinger, going 0-2. A deep fly ball from Christopher Morrell closed out the frame. In his four innings, the Cubs punched out seven times against the Skwes, whiffing 14 times on 40 swings. Spotty fastball command outpaced Skenes in some cases, but his 95 mph “splinker” helped him escape mostly unscathed.

In the fourth, Nico Horner lofted a mid-range slider into the left-field bleachers on a solo shot that looked like it would be the only blemish on Skane's record after he punched out Yan Gomes to end the frame. . Then all hell broke loose.

Skenes allowed two hits to start the fifth. Bucs captain Derek Shelton made a slow move amid the boos, seeking to remove his disgrace from the game. In came Kyle Nicholls, who recorded two quick outs before plunking out Ian Happ to load the bases. Nicholls then bowled 12 consecutive balls and scored three Cubs – two of which were given to Skenes – before Shelton struck him out. Josh Fleming came up, and two more Cubs came up, one on a walk and the other on an infield dribbler single to tie the game.

And then the heavens opened. Torrential rain stopped the game, sending the flailing Pirates club back to their locker room. Scores of fans ran for shelter. Many people walked out of the yard, running across the wet path across the Clemente Bridge to their cars and homes.

Skenes, who had stayed in the dugout to watch the end of the inning, walked alone down the stairs leading to the PNC Park tunnel and up to the home clubhouse, holding a black glove with gold trim in one hand, a pregame in the other. Those little bags of bric-a-brac. His debut came and went.

After a rain delay, the Pirates somehow ultimately won the ballgame, despite giving up two more runs in the top of an eternal fifth inning started by Skenes. In the bottom half of the frame, catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a three-run homer to give Pittsburgh a lead it would not relinquish. Pirates' talisman Andrew McCutchen added a solo smash for good measure. Hometown David Bednar made a substantial effort to defend. The fireworks started with the final out.

None of this fazed the comically nerdy Skenes, who casually declared in his post-game interview that he was “glad we got the win.”

And that's the cliché about Skenes: He's here to win.

Those who know him from his days at the Air Force Academy speak of his strong desire and determination to succeed. In his one season at LSU, he started 19 games and lost only once. Several times during the interview, Skenes prioritized “winning the World Series” over any personal accomplishment. This is a serious person, who is not satisfied with mediocrity.

But Big Moose can't single-handedly lead Pittsburgh to sustained competency, let alone contention. Fellow rookie Jared Jones has shined so far this season, and the Pirates are still 6.5 games out of first in the NL Central with a minus-26 run differential.

Fans are skeptical of the Cherrington regime, citing a lack of obvious progress in the standings. But the culture of losing extends far beyond the tenure of this organization. Only the Royals, who won the title in 2015, have lost more games than Pittsburgh this century, and the Pirates are the only team without a League Championship Series appearance in the wild-card era (1994). Their 9-2 start this year ended with a blow when the offense cooled off.

This means that even if Skane lives up to the hype, Pirates face a tough climb until October. And so, the future in Pittsburgh is both bright and unclear. There is reason to expect sunshine and rain. Had both on Saturday, only because Paul Skenes moved the clouds.

This won't be the last time.

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