Jay Bell knows clutch

New Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell, who spent most of his 18-year career as a No. 2 hitter, is remembered as an outstanding “situational hitter.” Someone capable of delivering whatever a particular game-situation called for.

Sacrifice bunt? Had 159 of them, including back-to-back seasons with 30-plus. Hit-and-run? He could turn his bat into a divining rod. Millionaire-maker? Done.

It was ironic for me to be back in Arizona when the Bucs announced the hiring of Bell because this was the scene of his greatest moment. Actually, the moment belonged to one Gylene Hoyle, but Bell made it happen.

July 11, 1999. Sunday, the last game-day prior to the All-Star break. Sixth inning of an Interleague Game against Oakland in what at the time was known as Bank One Ballpark. Two outs, bases loaded, 3-3 tie. Bell steps into the batter’s box.

Just like Hoyle had predicted he would. Or, at least hoped: By lot, she had been chosen to participate in a promotion by the second-year franchise, whereby contestants got to pick the player and the inning for a grand slam. Have everything go right, and you win a million bucks. Who wants to be a millionaire? Everybody. But no one had gotten there this way.

The D-backs radio guys had set up the details of the stakes even before the inning began — that’s the whole idea behind these promotional gimmicks. A Gylene Hoyle, from Chandler. Jay Bell. Tony Womack — another former Buccos infielder — walks to load the bases… and here comes Bell.

To that point, Bell was hitless in 12 at-bats that series. He runs the count full against A’s righty Jimmy Haynes, fouls off a couple pitches — and lines the next one into the left-field seats.

Sitting behind the Arizona dugout, Hoyle and her family hyperventilate. The 36,632 in-house go nuts, because they all knew the stakes.

Incredibly, so did Bell. He was fully aware of what he was swinging for before even going to bat.

“There was no question I wanted to hit a home run there,” Bell told The Associated Press. “I saw her on our dugout before the game and knew the whole situation. Most of the fans did, too. It was a lot of fun.”

Talk about clutch. That’s an element the ’12 Pirates, who lived by the long ball, sorely lacked. They better pay close attention to their new hitting mentor.

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