Bob Smizik: What was worst loss in Pittsburgh history?

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All towns have tough losses. It’s possible Pittsburgh’s litany of miserable memorable sports defeats is no worse than some other city's. It just doesn’t seem that way. It wasn’t easy to pick the five toughest losses in Pittsburgh history. Apologies if your toughest to swallow isn’t listed. But read on and pick which game is the worst loss in Pittsburgh sports history.

Cincinnati Reds 4, Pirates 3

October 11, 1972: The World Champion Pirates were tied two games apiece with the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-five National League Championship Series. The Pirate took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth at Riverfront Stadium. Closer Dave Giusti was brought on to face a Cincinnati lineup that was heavily right-handed. During the season, in which he had a 1.93 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, right-handed hitters had a puny .599 OPS against Giusti and two home runs in 157 at bats.

The first batter, right-handed hitting Johnny Bench, homered to tie the game The second batter, right-handed hitting Tony Perez, singled. The third batter, right-handed hitting Denis Menke, singled. With a 2-0 count on Cesar Geronimo, manager Bill Virdon relieved Giusti with Bob Moose. Moose had started Game 2 and allowed five straight hits before being relieved in a four-run first inning. Geronimo flied out to right field as pinch-runner George Foster advanced to third. Darrel Chaney popped up to shortstop Gene Alley. With a 1-1 count on pinch-hitter Hal McRae, Moose’s pitch was wide and in the dirt. It skipped passed catcher Manny Sanguillen as Foster romped home with the winning run.

Atlanta Braves 3, Pirates 2

October 14, 1992: The Pirates won their third straight National League East Division title in 1992. The two previous years they had been denied a trip to the World Series by Cincinnati and then Atlanta. The 1992 NLCS was a return matchup with the Braves. The Pirates had won the NL East with a 96-66 record, the Braves the West at 98-64. The Pirates lost three of the first four games, but rallied to win games 5 and 6. The finale was at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.

With ace Doug Drabek on the mound, the Pirates led, 2-0, going into the ninth. Terry Pendleton led off with a double. David Justice grounded to second baseman Chico Lind, who took his eye off the ball, seemingly looking at Pendleton, whose run was meaningless. Justice reached on the error. Sid Bream walked to load the bases. Stan Belinda replaced Drabek. Ron Gant lined deep to left for the first out as Pendleton scored. Damon Berryhill walked to load the bases. Brian Hunter popped up. The Pirates were one out from the World Series. They never got there. Pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera singled to left to score Justice and Bream, who famously just beat the throw from Barry Bonds.

New York Islanders 4, Penguins 3

May 14, 1993: The 1992-93 Penguins were clearly the best team in the NHL. They finished with 119 points, 10 more than any other team. They had four 100-point scorers, led by Mario Lemieux, who had scored an incredible 69 goals and 160 points in 60 games. After eliminating the New Jersey Devils, the Penguins took on the third-place New York Islanders. The Penguins won games 2, 3 and 5 to take a 3-2 lead and went to the Nassau Coliseum to clinch the series. The Islanders won, 7-5. It was back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 -- and perhaps the most unforgettable on-ice moment in Penguins history.

The underdog Islanders took a 3-1 lead late into the third period. But the Penguins scored twice in the final five minutes to tie the game. Momentum was surely on the side of the defending champions. But with almost five minutes elapsed in overtime, the Islanders had an odd-man break. Ray Ferraro bearing down on goalie Tom Barrasso from the left side, fired a cross-ice pass to a man whose name will long live in Pittsburgh sports infamy -- David Volek. Volek, often a healthy scratch for the Islanders, fired the puck passed Barrasso to give the Islanders the win and bring to an end what had once looked like a Penguins dynasty.

Villanova 78, Pitt 76

March 12, 2009: The Pitt basketball team finished the regular season 28-4, ranked fourth in the nation and champion of the Big East Conference. It was no surprise when the Panthers were awarded a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They beat East Tennessee State, Oklahoma State and Xavier by 10, eight and five points to advance to the regional final in Boston against No. 4 seed Villanova. The Wildcats had finished the regular season ranked 11th in the country. The winner was off to the promised land of the Final Four.

Pitt, with future NBA players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young in the lineup, led, 34-32, at halftime. Villanova led by four with 20 seconds remaining. Blair scored with 12 seconds remaining. Villanova turned the ball over and Levance Fields was fouled. He made both shots to tie the game with 5.5 seconds remaining. Pitt did not contest the inbounds pass but had two men guarding Scottie Reynolds, Villanova’s best player. The high pass went to 6-foot-8 Dante Cunningham, who was guarded from behind, about five to 10 feet beyond the top of the free-throw circle. He immediately gave it to Reynolds, who had peeled away from his defenders. Five dribbles took Reynolds to the basket where from a few feet he put up a floater went in to win the game.

Denver Broncos 29, Steelers 23

January 8, 2012: Even though the Denver Broncos had the home-field by virtue of their division championship, won despite an 8-8 record, they didn’t figure to match up with the Steelers, who were 12-4 and a wild-card entrant. Not only had the Broncos lost three straight coming into the playoffs, they were outscored in those games, 88-40. The Steelers had the No. 1 defense in the NFL, both in yards and points allowed, and the No. 12 offense. Denver was 23 in offense and 20 in defense. What’s more, the Broncos had the laughable Tim Tebow at quarterback.

The joke was on the Steelers. Although Tebow was awful in the first, third and fourth quarters, he led the Broncos to 20 points in the second quarter while, amazingly, completing passes of 58, 51, 40 and 30 yards. The Steelers scored 10 points in the final 10 minutes to send the game to overtime. On the first play of overtime, with the ball on the Denver 20, cornerback Ike Thomas lined up in tight coverage opposite wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had already caught three passes for 134 yards. When the ball was snapped, there was no Steeler deeper than 4 yards off the line of scrimmage. Thomas slanted toward the middle and was open immediately. Tebow delivered the ball and since Thomas was the fastest man on the field there was no catching him. It was a defeat from which the Steelers have yet to recover.

First Published March 19, 2014 12:07 AM

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