PITTSBURGH -- Around 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sean Rodriguez found out he'd been traded back to the Pirates. He had 72 hours to rejoin his new team full of old teammates. He was on a flight to Pittsburgh 23 hours later. About 8 1/2 hours after that, Rodriguez stepped to the plate in the 12th inning and crushed a walk-off homer to left field, leading the Pirates to a 5-4 win over the Padres on Sunday at PNC Park.
Rodriguez could have taken another day to report. He could have found a reason not to play Sunday. But he made it clear he wanted to contribute, to help the Pirates win. He did just that on his first day back with the Bucs, redeeming a rare blown save by closer Felipe Rivero with his third career walk-off homer, a solo shot off Padres left-hander Buddy Baumann.
"Deep down, I never felt like I ever stopped being a Pirate," Rodriguez said. "Big saying over here is, 'Family forever.' I was here for two years. I felt like I was never going to leave. Now, I'm back."
The Pirates took two of three from the Padres to win the weekend series after dropping their past four series. With the win and the Cubs' loss to the Nationals, the Bucs pulled to within 4 1/2 games of the division-leading Cubs in the National League Central race.
Officially reacquired Saturday afternoon, Rodriguez did not start Sunday's game. He spent his first few hours back in Pittsburgh reacquainting himself with his surroundings and joking in the dugout. He entered the game to play second base in the eighth inning, part of the same double-switch that brought Rivero to the mound, and received an ovation from the crowd of 34,175.
"That was pretty cool. I didn't know how to react," Rodriguez said. "That was pretty awesome, the fans showing me that much love. I definitely felt it."
Summoned for a four-out save, Rivero appeared to run out of gas as he loaded the bases in the ninth. Manuel Margot made him pay, ripping a game-tying, two-run single to left field and ending his afternoon. The lights-out lefty threw 41 pitches and saw his velocity drop from 100 mph to 95 by the end of the inning.
"[Rivero]'s been absolutely the best closer in the game all year," Padres manager Andy Green said. "But we had multiple at-bats in a row that he had to work for and that had a cumulative effect. But he's been great all year. Everybody is human at some point in time."
Padres closer Brad Hand escaped a jam in the 10th, entering with one out and the bases loaded, then immediately inducing a double-play grounder from Jose Osuna. Rodriguez moved to first base in the 11th and hit leadoff in the 12th. He saw three fastballs, all down and in, and blasted the third one a Statcast-projected 384 feet into the left-field seats.
"We've seen that swing play," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You can't write those things up. That's what's so great about sports. … Nobody's got this walking in the door today."
Rodriguez rounded the bases as the Pirates poured out of the dugout. Andrew McCutchen slapped Rodriguez on the back while Gerrit Cole stood behind the plate, both arms raised. Rodriguez entered the scrum around home plate, and the celebration began.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Rally starter: After falling behind by two runs in the first inning, the Pirates took a two-run lead in the third. It started innocently enough, as catcher Chris Stewart reached on third baseman Cory Spangenberg's error. Stewart took second on Starling Marte's single and scored on McCutchen's two-out single. Osuna, granted a rare start at first base, cleared the bases with a two-out, three-run double to right field off Padres starter Clayton Richard. All four runs the Pirates scored off Richard that inning were unearned.
"The at-bats, they're playing," Hurdle said of Osuna. "He's getting some hits. The opportunities against left-handed pitching have picked up traction the last couple months."
One to remember: The Pirates used four relievers to get through the 10th, leaving Hurdle with only three options in the bullpen. Hurdle turned to rookie Dovydas Neverauskas, who pitched an inning Saturday. Neverauskas delivered two scoreless innings and struck out three, and Rodriguez's homer gave the Lithuanian right-hander his first Major League victory -- one he likely won't forget.
"Speechless. It was awesome," Neverauskas said. "In walk-off fashion, too. That makes it better."
"I thought it was a real test of our team today. When you have your closer in the game and a two-run lead in the ninth and you don't finish it there, you stay on it and you stay in it. Everybody threw something in. These guys love to play. They've got all kinds of fight in them." -- Hurdle
"That's what he does. I mean at some point in time he's human, too. But it's been awhile since he's shown that. He's just gotten out of every dicey situation there is. When you are managing a ballgame, and you walk them loaded and you get to bring him in, you feel as good as you possibly can in that situation." -- Green, on Hand getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Sunday was Rodriguez's third career walk-off homer and his second with the Pirates. His last walk-off blast for Pittsburgh came against the Reds at PNC Park on Aug. 5, 2016, exactly a year before he was traded back to the Bucs. His only previous walk-off shot was May 22, 2014, for the Rays. Coincidentally, that was Tampa Bay's last walk-off homer before Steven Souza Jr. went deep to beat the Brewers on Sunday.
•: Rivero threw 41 pitches, the third-greatest total of his career. With the Nationals, he threw a career-high 45 pitches on July 17, 2016, against the Pirates, and 42 pitches on June 6, 2015, against the Cubs. Both of those outings, however, lasted three innings.
Green was ejected in the 11h by home plate umpire Tripp Gibson III after he disagreed with Gibson's decision to keep the Padres on the field after Osuna hit into an inning-ending double play in the 10th. He was previously upset that Gibson had not asked for help from the first base umpire when he called Wil Myers out for batter's interference in the top of the 10th.
"It's an inning-ending double play or a game-ending fielder's choice, so my perspective was my players don't need to stay on the field and wait for a replay," Green said. "It was obviously precipitated by the conservation on the Wil Myers foul ball. He felt like I was telling him how to do his job."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With one out in the top of the 12th, Carlos Asuaje singled to right field. Hand dropped a bunt in front of home plate, and Stewart attempted to get the out at second. Asuaje was ruled safe, and Stewart was charged with an error.
The Pirates challenged the call, believing shortstop Jordy Mercer received Stewart's throw before Asuaje slid in safely. But after a short review, the call was confirmed and Asuaje remained safe. It didn't matter in the end, as Neverauskas recorded two more outs without allowing a run.
WHAT'S NEXT Padres:Jhoulys Chacin will start for the Padres as they travel to Cincinnati to begin a four-game series against the Reds on Monday at 4:10 p.m. PT. A rumored trade candidate, Chacin made his first start after the Deadline vs. the Twins, shutting out Minnesota across seven, three-hit innings. After posting a 5.77 ERA in his first 11 starts, the right-hander has a 2.49 ERA over his last 11 outings.
Pirates: The Pirates will begin a home-and-home series with the Tigers on Monday, playing two games at PNC Park before heading to Comerica Park for two more. Right-hander Trevor Williams will start the opener at 7:05 p.m. ET, having posted a 3.86 ERA over his last 15 starts. Pittsburgh is expected to activate recently acquired reliever George Kontos before the game.