Adam LaRoche is my favorite baseball player. Rod Barajas is my favorite baseball player. Both are former Pirates; neither was very popular as a Pirate. I have a habit of supporting the most unpopular players. I guess I feel like they need my support when it’s not coming from anywhere else. Tonight’s Pirates Playback on ROOT, from May 8th of 2012, involved both.
Adam came into the game batting .311 with 4 homeruns. It was his first game back after missing four straight games with abdominal soreness. He came back strong. He struck out in his first at-bat but overall but then found his swing quickly. Overall, he was 2 for 3 with a walk. He was a big part of the Nats’ 4th-inning run, which made the score 2-0 Nationals (Wilson Ramos’ 3rd-inning homerun gave the Nats their first run). After a leadoff double by Bryce Harper and a lineout by Ryan Zimmerman, Adam singled, sending Harper to 3rd so that he could score on Rick Ankiel’s single 2 batters later.
In the bottom of the 4th, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones erased the 2-0 lead with a couple of solo homers. The score stayed tied until Neil Walker gave the Pirates a 1-run lead with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 8th.
So the Nationals and Pirates went to the 9th inning with the Pirates leading 3-2 and Joel Hanrahan, perfect so far in 2012 save opportunities, coming in to pitch for the Buccos. Ryan Zimmerman led off the 9th with a single to left. Adam batted second. He took 3 balls, then a called strike, and then fouled off the 5th pitch of the at-bat to put him at a full count. After 5 straight 4-seam fastballs, Joel Hanrahan threw him another 4-seam fastball. Adam was ready, and his pretty swing sent the ball high and far to center field, giving him his 5th homerun of the year and the Nationals a 4-3 lead. Hanrahan got the next 2 batters out, and Tony Watson came in to finish the top of the 9th, giving up a hit to Wilson Ramos before striking out Roger Bernadina to end the top of the 9th inning.
Now the Pirates had to go to the bottom of the 9th. It wasn’t what they were hoping for, and they didn’t have their best hitters due up either: Casey McGehee, Alex Presley, and Clint Barmes. If one of them should get on base, Rod Barajas would bat 4th. Henry Rodriguez came in to pitch for the Nationals with a 1.50 ERA. McGehee flied out to right field. Presley managed a single on a soft fly ball to center. Yamaico Navarro was chosen to pinch hit for Barmes. He fought through a 5-pitch at-bat but struck out swinging. Rod Barajas came to bat as the Pirates’ last hope. Thanks to a couple of wild pitches, Alex Presley stood at 3rd base.
Rod was batting .133 coming into the game. Pirates fans were losing patience. They prepared themselves for disappointment as Rod stepped to the plate. He hadn’t hit a homer yet in 2012. He didn’t even have an RBI. However, he’d paid enough attention during Navarro’s at-bat to expect a fastball. He got a good swing on the ball and pulled it deep to left field, just a few feet right of the foul pole. It was a homerun.
Rod redeemed himself for a time with that homerun. Pirates fans were quick to forgive. It started a streak of good games for him. Later in the year, as his offense declined, the walkoff was all but forgotten. The Zoltan sign, initiated that day, was remembered for a time, but it too faded as the Pirates declined as a team.
Still, Rod’s walkoff win remains a favorite 2012 memory for many and won’t be completely forgotten for quite some time. And it never would have happened if not for Adam LaRoche’s homerun in the top of the 9th.