Former Indianapolis Indians Most Valuable Player Neil Walker broke a Pittsburgh Pirates franchise record in a 7-3 thumping of the Cubs on Sunday.
Facing right-hander Jacob Turner, Walker connected on an 0-1 fastball to deposit his 20th homer of the season into the bleachers and give the four-year Tribe veteran the most home runs in a season by a Pirates second baseman. Walker’s historic blast surpassed all-time Buccos great Bill Mazeroski, who went deep 19 times in 1958.
“I’m humbled just to be in the same breath as the people on the list,” Walker, who also tied Mazeroski’s 16-homer mark in 2013 for No. 4 overall among Pirates second baseman, said. “To get to this point is very humbling … and I’m happy that I got there.”
Walker is enjoying the breakout campaign in just his fourth full season at the major league level. The slugging middle infielder has suited up with his former Indians squad as recent as 2013 (brief rehab stint), last began a season at the Triple-A level in 2010 and was named the Tribe’s MVP in 2008 after belting a team-high 16 homers.
Overall, Walker has hit .259 (285-for-1102) with 78 doubles, 11 triples, 36 homers, 139 runs scored and 175 RBI in 293 games with the Indians from 2007-10 and 2013.
“You try not to put too much pressure on yourself and you try to simplify things,” Walker said of his approach at the plate after lifting a game-winning, two-run blast against Louisville in 2009 (April 16). “The less you think about things, the better off you are.”
Gameplan in mind, Walker followed his two-run bomb with 12 additional Triple-A homers and 47 total extra-base hits through the 2009 campaign. The standout effort earned the Pittsburgh kid his first promotion to the big leagues as a part of the Pirates’ wave of September call-ups, and Walker made his MLB debut against the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 1.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Walker said upon receiving news of his promotion in 2009. “This has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember; I’m going to play for my hometown team.”
Walker returned to the Indians in 2010 to leave a lasting impression during his final official stint at the Triple-A level. The newly-converted second baseman hit safely in 33 of 43 Indians games with a .321 average (54-for-168), 18 doubles, two triples, six homers, 25 runs scored and 26 RBI from April 8 – May 24. He knocked his final homer with the Tribe on May 14, 2010, a ninth-inning solo shot off current Minnesota righty Casey Fien.
On Sunday, after also turning a triple play for the Buccos, the new record-holder Walker said, “It was a pretty cool day.”