WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Despite spending the afternoon with 12-year-old Little Leaguers who idolize pros like himself, Josh Bell didn't find himself dispensing much advice.
"No one came to me and asked, 'What do you think about my swing?'" Bell said. "It was more like, 'Follow me on Instagram' or like this or that picture. It was more lighthearted."
So he gave them a firsthand demonstration of how to hit one out.
Bell homered and drove in four runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates over the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 in the Little League Classic on Sunday night.
The teams played at renovated Bowman Field, a 91-year-old minor league ballpark located 5 miles from where the Little League World Series is taking place. Sitting in the front rows were admiring Little Leaguers who got to mingle with the big league stars earlier in the day, part of a Major League Baseball initiative to celebrate youth baseball.
After the final out of MLB's first regular-season game in Williamsport, the Pirates shook hands on the field as usual following a victory. And then — in a nod to Little League baseball — both teams lined up at home plate and shook hands with each other, throwing in some hugs and high-fives to finish off a feel-good day.
"It was refreshing every once in a while to be able to look in the stands and see the kids watching the game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was one of the highlights of my career."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny also appreciated the atmosphere inside a 2,366-seat venue that was packed with 2,596 fans.
"You can't help but get caught up, especially these kids treating our players like they're heroes as they walk through there," Matheny said. "Pretty special stuff. I think that's something they never get used to completely."
Bell sent a pitch from Mike Leake (7-12) over the right-centre wall for a two-run shot in the first inning. The rookie slugger added a two-run single in the third to give Pittsburgh the lead for good.
"He's a maturing player," Hurdle said. "His overall game has just found a good, competitive place at this level. He's become a very definite guy that can do some damage at the plate."
Adam Frazier homered for the second straight game and Andrew McCutchen added an RBI grounder for the Pirates, who were the "home" team and won their second in a row to split the four-game series. They snapped a six-game skid with a rain-delayed victory Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Pirates starter Ivan Nova (11-10) wasn't affected by Saturday's late finish. The team sent him to Williamsport early that day so he'd be rested and ready. And he was. Nova gave up three runs on eight hits and struck out five in 5 2/3 innings.
He got through a tough stretch in the fourth when St. Louis put two runners on with no outs. Nova struck out Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk before getting Jose Martinez to ground out.
"No panic, no panic," Nova said. "I was just trying to stay ahead."
Felipe Rivero got three outs for his 14th save in 15 chances. With runners on first and second, Paul DeJong hit a long fly to centre field for the final out.
Jedd Gyorko cut Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2 with a two-run homer in the second, his 17th of the season. Wong had an RBI single for St. Louis in the sixth.
The Pirates' bullpen held the Cardinals to two hits after Nova's exit.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
St. Louis players Lance Lynn and Grichuk both starred for their respective Little League teams. Grichuk made back-to-back appearances in the Little League World Series for Richmond, Texas, in 2003 and 2004. Lynn's team from Brownsburg, Indiana, went 0-3 in 1999.
A couple of Pirates also had memories of Williamsport.
Max Moroff was on the Maitland, Florida, team that advanced to the semifinals of the 2005 Little League World Series, and Hurdle spent a year managing the now-defunct Williamsport Bills, then a New York Mets affiliate. He was asked if any of the gear or keepsakes he signed Sunday had a Bills logo on it.
"Not one Williamsport Bills item has popped up," Hurdle said. "It was a very forgettable year."
The Bills went 60-79 in Hurdle's lone season.
LITTLE LEAGUERS TAKE PART
Little League players took part all night, beginning with the opening pitch.
A player from each team lined up from centre field and around the bases to relay the first pitch to Pirates catcher Chris Stewart. Players also relayed lineup cards to officials, answered trivia questions on the field for Xboxes and signed memorabilia. Kids got the best seats in the house — in the front rows and winding around both dugouts.
They also got a chance to take over the stadium public address system, announcing players as they walked to the plate, and were treated to nearly 200 snow cones bought by Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham.
Cardinals: St. Louis is off Monday before Lynn (10-6) opens a six-game homestand against San Diego on Tuesday. Lynn, who struggled with a 5.68 ERA in June, has lowered that to 2.00 in three August starts.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole (10-8) faces the major league-leading Dodgers on Monday. Cole is 4-1 in his last eight starts.
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