Post-Gazette baseball writers Bill Brink and Jenn Menendez recount the 25 most memorable moments of the most memorable Pittsburgh Pirates season along the three rivers in a generation.
1. ’CUE-TO! CUE-TO!’
“Cue-to. Cue-to. Cue-to” came the chants from the crowd, in unison, as Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto imploded in the second inning of the wild-card game in Pittsburgh. The Pirates were up 1-0. The count was 2-1 on catcher Russell Martin. He stepped out of the batters box as the chants grew louder. Cueto then literally dropped the ball amid the noise, and it fell, limply, to the ground. He bent over to pick it up, Martin stepped back in the box and on the next pitch crushed a solo homer to left center to make it 2-0 Pirates. The crowd erupted. A moment was etched in Pirates lore.
2. Alvarez vs. Siegrist
Pedro Alvarez came to the plate with the scored tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 3 in the National League Division Series. Justin Morneau had reached on a fielder’s choice and Marlon Byrd walked, putting men on first and second. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in rookie left-hander Kevin Siegrist, who had allowed eight hits in 68 at-bats against lefties in the regular season. Alvarez has a career .200 average against lefties, including 179 strikeouts in 471 plate appearances, yet manager Clint Hurdle let him hit. Alvarez chopped an RBI single to right field. The hit scored pinch-runner Josh Harrison to break the tie, and the Pirates won to take a 2-1 series lead.
3. No. 82
This moment was 21 years in the making — 21 long, heartbreaking, painful years in the making. But finally, the Pirates got win No. 82 in Arlington against the Texas Rangers to mark a winning season at long last. Pedro Alvarez drove in the winning run with a two-out double in the seventh, scoring Marlon Byrd from second base for the 1-0 win. The clubhouse hardly marked the moment and kept their sights on the division title. But back in Pittsburgh there was jubilation. The Pirates were losers no more.
4. Byrd’s HR in the wild-card game
Marlon Byrd spent 12 years in the major leagues without a trip to the postseason. That included a winter in the Mexican Leagues as a last ditch effort to pump life back into his career. When he finally got there, it took him one at-bat to make an impact. Byrd came to the plate in the second inning of the wild-card game and crushed a hanging changeup over the left field wall off Johnny Cueto to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
5. Morneau’s throw
Starling Marte had already bailed out Mark Melancon. Now Justin Morneau would need to help Marlon Byrd. Marte had broken the 1-1 tie against the Chicago Cubs with a ninth-inning home run, one inning after Melancon allowed the Cubs to tie it up. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Nate Schierholtz on first, Ryan Sweeney singled to right. Byrd bobbled the ball, but Andrew McCutchen fielded it and returned it to the middle of the infield. Morneau, drifting over from first base, relayed it home to Russell Martin to keep Schierholtz from scoring and end the game. “I saw him send him at third so I kind of peeked up,” Morneau said after the game. Minutes later, the Pirates’ win combined with the Washington Nationals’ loss secured a playoff berth for the first time since 1992.
6. Morton and Marte in the clincher
Charlie Morton kept the playoff-clinching game against the Chicago Cubs close enough for the ninth-inning performances to matter. Working with a one-run lead, Morton held the Cubs scoreless through seven innings, allowing three hits and walking only one. The Cubs’ eighth-inning run off Mark Melancon neutralized Morton’s performance, but Starling Marte ensured it wasn’t in vain. He hit a 1-1 pitch from Kevin Gregg for a home run with two outs in the top of the ninth, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead that held for the victory.
7. NLDS Game 2: Alvarez homers
The Pirates were in a 1-0 hole to open the National League Division Series at St. Louis when Game 2 began. A stadium filled with red-clad Cardinal fans was first quieted when Pedro Alvarez hit a ground-rule double in the second inning off Lance Lynn, then scored on a single by pitcher Gerrit Cole. But it was the third inning, with Justin Morneau on base, and the game still teetering, when Alvarez opened it all up. Alvarez lined a two-run homer to center field to give the Pirates some breathing room. It was his second of the playoffs at that point. And the Pirates went on to win, 7-1.
8. Walker’s two homers
Everything but the location of the wild-card game had been decided by the second-to-last game of the season. The Pirates sent it to PNC Park with six home runs against the Cincinnati Reds. Five of them came against Bronson Arroyo, and two of those came from Neil Walker. Walker hit a solo shot in the third inning and another one in the fifth, his 15th and 16th of the season. One home run later, Arroyo was done, and the Pirates secured the first playoff game in PNC Park history.
9. NLDS Game 2: Cole’s performance
Gerrit Cole was at his best by the end of the regular season in September, and primed for a breakout postseason to cap his rookie year. With the start in Game 2, Cole delivered. After a one-out double in the first, Cole retired 11 consecutive batters. He gave up one home run to Yadier Molina, then retired three more including Carlos Beltran. He struck Beltran out looking at a 98 mph two-seam fastball. Over six innings he allowed just two hits and one run, becoming the first Pirates rookie to win a playoff game since Tim Wakefield won a pair in the 1992 NLCS. Cole also drove in the first run of the game with a second inning single.
10. NLDS Game 3: McCutchen’s performance
Andrew McCutchen’s Game 3 performance in the NLDS blended in after Pedro Alvarez’s tiebreaking hit, but his contributions kept the game close. He walked and scored in the first inning. He singled in the third. He walked and scored again in the sixth. McCutchen doubled to lead off the bottom of the eighth, just after Mark Melancon had allowed a tying home run to Carlos Beltran in the inning’s top half. McCutchen then made the first out of the inning at third base on a poor decision on a ground ball, but the play ensured at least one man stayed on base. The pinch-runner would score and the Pirates won. McCutchen finished 2 for 2 with two runs.
11. Trading for Byrd
The trade deadline came and went in late July with no moves by the Pirates, to the fury of fans, sure their club was pinching pennies again. Then on Aug. 27, in what would turn out to be a stroke of genius, Neal Huntington made a trade with the New York Mets for right fielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck, dealing minor leaguers Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. Byrd was immediately a hit. He compiled an .843 OPS during his time with the Pirates, but even better was his clutch performance in the postseason. Byrd hit a home run in his first postseason at-bat in the wild-card game, drove in five runs on eight hits, batted .364 with a .982 OPS, and scored four times. Instant fan favorite.
12. Cole’s debut
Before Gerrit Cole earned a shot as the Game 5 starter in the NLDS, he was a top prospect, his arrival date uncertain. He made his major league debut June 11, against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants at PNC Park. He began the evening by striking out Giants leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco on three pitches, all fastballs, Blanco swinging through a 99 mph fastball for strike three. Cole finished 61⁄3 innings and allowed two runs on seven hits without walking a batter. He added a bases-loaded single to score two runs for good measure. When he left in the seventh and heard the crowd’s ovation, he said, “I was trying not to look up, because I felt like I was going to smile.”
13. First to 50 wins
On the night of June 29, the Pirates had won seven in a row to reach 49 wins and could boast the best record in the National League. In a matter of hours the Pirates made it eight in a row with a 2-1 win against the Milwaukee Brewers. Pedro Alvarez homered into the Allegheny River, Francisco Liriano gave up just one run on seven hits and a walk with six strikeouts. And the Pirates were the first team to 50 wins, a feat the club hadn’t accomplished since 1960. It foreshadowed of what was to come.
14. All-Star Game moment
The Pirates sent five players to the All-Star Game for the first time since 1972. Andrew McCutchen, Jeff Locke, Pedro Alvarez, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon all traveled to New York City for the festivities at Citi Field. Alvarez competed for the National League in the Home Run Derby. Jason Grilli pitched a scoreless inning and allowed one hit. The group joined good company: The five to make the 1972 NL All-Star team were Steve Blass, Roberto Clemente, Al Oliver, Manny Sanguillen and Willie Stargell.
15. Signing Martin and Liriano
December 1, 2012 & February 8, 2013
The 2012 offseason arrived last fall on the heels of another late-season collapse. General Manager Neal Huntington, charged with finding some key pieces to stop the bleeding, aggressively honed in on catcher Russell Martin, a free agent after the Yankees season ended. On Dec. 1 he signed Martin to a 2-year contract worth $17 million — the largest contract yet on his watch. Later that month, the club set its eyes on left-hander Francisco Liriano, a reclamation project of sorts they had an inkling would go well. The deal nearly fell through when Liriano injured his non-pitching arm on Christmas. But by February the two sides agreed. Liriano would earn a guaranteed $1 million in 2013, with a vesting option for 2014 with incentives. Both were instrumental in getting the club to the playoffs.
16. Liriano’s debut
Francisco Liriano started the season with his right arm in a brace, broken. The injury occurred, according to Liriano, when he smashed it into a door to scare his children. The injury initially cost him $11.75 million: The Pirates re-negotiated his contract because he had not passed his physical before breaking his arm. After months of rehab, he debuted May 11 against the New York Mets at Citi Field and struck out nine in 51⁄3 innings, allowing only one run in the process. That outing began a 16-8 season with a 3.02 ERA as he pitched like the ace of the staff.
17. Walk-off error win
Russell Martin came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded, two outs, and the chance to beat the Houston Astros, with the score tied, 4-4. He popped up to shallow right on a 75 mph changeup, and as the Astros converged on the ball it appeared inevitable the Pirates were going to extra innings. Instead, second baseman Jack Elmore who was backtracking for the catch collided with right fielder Jimmy Parades. The ball dropped, and Travis Snider scored from third, stepping emphatically on home plate. The Pirates won, 5-4, on a walk-off error. “Raise the Jolly Roger anyway you can!” said announcer Greg Brown on the Root Sports broadcast.
18. Martin walk-off
A tight game against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 30 put the Pirates’ eight-game win streak in jeopardy. The Pirates trailed, 1-0, into the eighth until Andrew McCutchen’s RBI single tied the score. Nobody else could score until the bottom of the 14th inning. Gaby Sanchez singled to lead off the inning, then stole second, his first and only steal of the season. His move into scoring position became important: Pinch-hitter Russell Martin singled up the middle to score Sanchez. The Pirates walked off with a 2-1 win, their ninth in a row, and improved to 51-30.
19. Gomez & Walker vs. the Detroit Tigers
It was a pitchers’ duel by any measure: Rick Porcello vs. Jeanmar Gomez. The pair went pitch-for-pitch through eight scoreless innings. Porcello retired 10 of 11 batters, then gave up a single to Andrew McCutchen. He then retired 11 more before a Pedro Alvarez single in the eighth. Gomez gave up just three hits, in seven shutout innings. The game went to extras, through a scoreless 10th, and then with one out in the 11th inning, Neil Walker cranked a solo homer off reliever Jose Ortega. Jason Grilli earned the save and the Pirates won, 1-0. Walker went 3 for 5.
20. Presley walk-off vs. Cardinals
Alvarez’s go-ahead single in Game 3 of the NLDS wasn’t the first time a Pirates left-hander got the better of Kevin Siegrist. The Pirates and Cardinals had a five-game series, including a doubleheader resulting from a rainout, at the non-waiver trade deadline in July. During the first game of the doubleheader, the second game of the series, a 1-1 tie held up from the third inning onward. In the 11th inning, Siegrist walked Russell Martin and Gaby Sanchez with one out, bringing the left-handed Alex Presley to the plate. He hit a full-count fastball up the middle, a possible double play ball, but Siegrist deflected it with his glove. Martin scored and the Pirates had a 2-1 win. The Pirates took four of five games from the Cardinals and led the division after the series.
21. Snider walk-off
There was an early call to the bullpen the afternoon of June 2, when Jeanmar Gomez was pulled after a single inning, allowing the Cincinnati Reds take a 4-0 lead on four hits. The Pirates chipped away with runs in the second and sixth innings, then Garrett Jones tied the score in the eighth inning with a two-run homer that reached the Allegheny River on the fly. Then came extras. Heading into the bottom of the 11th, the Pirates bullpen had gone 10 scoreless innings. With two on and two out, Travis Snider dropped a single into right center and Russell Martin was waved home. The throw to the plate was off and Martin slid in safely for another walk-off win at PNC Park.
22. McKenry homers twice in comeback
The Cincinnati Reds went to work against Phil Irwin in his major league debut April 14, scoring four runs in the first two innings. The Pirates did not score until the seventh, but Michael McKenry ensured they scored enough. McKenry’s two home runs helped the Pirates score four runs in the seventh inning and six in the eighth for a 10-7 comeback victory. McKenry’s solo homer off Reds starter Mat Latos in the seventh got the Pirates on the board. He hit another one in the eighth off setup man Jonathan Broxton to tie the score at 6-6, and Starling Marte’s homer three batters later gave the Pirates the lead. The PNC Park crowd summoned McKenry for a curtain call. “Any curtain call is humbling and a blessing,” he said after the game.
23. Martin’s 11th-inning walk-off
The Pirates were dominated for seven innings by Tigers starter Doug Fister who struck out 12, and walked just one. Jeff Locke managed 51⁄3 scoreless innings, and unearthed himself from a bases loaded jam in the fifth against one of the best hitting teams in baseball. But neither team struck through nine, so it was on to extras. In the bottom of the 11th, Neil Walker led off with a single to right off reliever Luke Putkonen. Andrew McCutchen walked and Gaby Sanchez loaded the bases with an infield single. That set the stage for Russell Martin, who had struck out three times that night. He came to the plate and lined a single off the left-field wall, scoring Walker, and giving the Pirates a 1-0 walk-off win.
24. Locke last man standing
On June 14, Jeff Locke represented the last man standing in the rotation. James McDonald, Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett were hurt, and Jonathan Sanchez had been released. The man who barely made the rotation out of spring training was all that was left. That night, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Locke improved to 6-1 by allowing two hits in seven scoreless innings. He threw only 75 pitches and prevented any runner from reaching second base. “I wouldn’t say comfort level’s changing,” Locke said. “Still uncomfortable, but the confidence is definitely there. ” Locke finished that outing with a 2.19 ERA. About a month later, he would make the National League All-Star team.
25. McCutchen homer
The Pirates and Brewers were locked in a tie game on May 14 when the 12th inning rolled around. The Brewers had gone up 1-0 in the first, 2-1 in the fourth, and 3-1 in the fifth but the Pirates plated runs in the sixth and eighth inning to tie the score, but extra innings were inevitable. It was a Tuesday night, well after 11 p.m., and the stands were nearly empty when Andrew McCutchen came to the plate for the fifth time of that night with no one out, no one on. In another signature moment, McCutchen homered to right center, giving the Pirates a 4-3 walk-off win.