PITTSBURGH — George Kontos still speaks regularly to many of the Giants who became close friends during his six seasons in San Francisco, and after his Pirates won the opener of this series, the right-hander stopped by the visiting team’s hotel to catch up. One of the first people he saw was Brandon Crawford.
A couple hours earlier, Crawford took Kontos’ second pitch off his front foot, turned and sent a joking glare back at the mound, and then jogged to first. It wasn’t exactly how Kontos drew it up when he thought about facing his former team.
“I was like, ‘You really couldn’t have just gotten out of the way so we could have had an actual at-bat against each other?’” Kontos said a day later. “He goes, ‘I did move a foot. I just moved the wrong one.’”
Crawford joked that he should have rushed the mound. He also suggested a different pitch choice.
“Throw a fastball, you have a six-run lead,” he said, laughing. “Don’t throw cutter-cutter.”
Kontos pitched the eighth inning of Pittsburgh’s 11-2 win in the opener. After hitting Crawford, he got a ground ball to first that Josh Bell threw away. Kontos struck out Austin Jackson and Nick Hundley before Gregor Blanco’s single loaded the bases for Andrew McCutchen, the story of the night. McCutchen grounded out to third.
“There was a lot of adrenaline. My heart was pumping fast,” Kontos said. “I’ve made a lot of major league appearances but that was my first one against the Giants and against the guys that I’ve seen hit thousands of times and gone through a lot of stuff with throughout the years. It was definitely a lot of fun. It was exciting.
“I wish the second pitch didn’t hit Crawford and it could have gone a little different. But it was fun, it was a lot of fun. To get Cutch with the bases loaded, a guy I was teammates with and we have some history in the past, it was definitely an eventful inning but it ended up being alright.”
Kontos was sent to the Pirates last August after they claimed him to keep him away from the rival Cubs. He has thrived, finding a home in the eighth, between hard-throwers Michael Feliz and Felipe Vasquez. After years of being Bruce Bochy’s fireman in the middle innings, he has been a fixture late in games for a surprising Pirates team. All 18 of his appearances have come in the eighth inning or later, and he has five holds and a save for a club making noise in the NL Central.
If the Pirates have another late lead in this series, there's a good chance Kontos will once again be called upon. It's something he's looking forward to, but Crawford said he doesn't necessarily feel the same way. He doesn't like facing Gerrit Cole, his brother in law, either.
"I personally don't like facing guys I know that well," he said. "It's a little bit weird at first."