Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Top 5 Pirate games

First of all, there is nothing interesting to discuss, outside of Jose Hernandez or Brian Lawrence. Also, I realized I hadn't done an interesting post since...well, ever. Therefore, I bring you the five most memorable Pirate games I have ever attended. Before we get started, I will admit that I used Retrosheet to fill in the details that I could not recall. Also, you may find an update at some point if I recall a game that slipped my mind. Beware, this is pretty long. Anyway, here it is:

5.) Joe Randa and Mark Smith salvage doubleheader against Dodgers with ninth-inning homeruns - August 25, 1997
It had been a lousy evening at the ballpark. The Pirates had been bullied in the opening game of the doubleheader, falling 8-2 and only managing 5 hits. Game 2 was not going much better, as the 9th inning began with the Bucs trailing 3-1. They also had only four hits and had struggled defensively with three errors. The highlight of my night to that point had been Jason Christiansen and company flicking pumpkin seeds at my friend and I, as our seats were next to the bullpen. Todd Worrell came in for the save and walked Eddie Williams. Joe Randa stepped up and lined one sharply to the right-center field gap. Centerfielder Otis Nixon (NOTE: Anyone remember Nixon saving a game for the Braves by robbing Van Slyke of a homerun late in a game?) raced back and leaped against the fence. The ball cleared his glove and the top of the wall by inches and the Pirates had suddenly tied the game. The crowd erupted with the first trace of emotion all game, wildly celebrating. We were still on our feet screaming as Mark Smith stepped in and awaited Worrell's first pitch. The crowd suddenly was shocked into silence, as Smith launched that first delivery a mile into the atmosphere. I couldn't speak, only able to mutter, "Oh my Go..." As a naive 13 year-old boy with a bad angle, I thought Smith had somehow hit the ball out of Three Rivers Stadium. He hadn't. But the ball landed in the first row of the left-field seats, and once again the crowd erupted. A night that had seemed destined for gloom had suddenly been thrust into glory. The Pirates had managed a split of the doubleheader, and a magical season dubbed as the "Freak Show" continued.

4.) Sid Bream hits walk-off homerun in 12th on Richard Caliguri Day - May 6, 1988
Richard Caliguri, who had fought to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh during his years as mayor in the 1980's, died in early May 1988. The Pirates honored him with a ceremony before this game, and dedicated the remainder of their season to his legacy. I was four at the time, and we arrived late, so I don't recall anything about the pregame ceremony. Nor do I remember much from the actual game. Each team put up a run in the first inning, then did nothing until the bottom of the 12th. After two outs, Andy Van Slyke singled and Bobby Bonilla walked, bringing up Sid Bream. Bream promptly deposited the baseball into the right-field seats for a 4-1 Pirates win. I was too young to really understand the bigger picture of this game, as far as a beloved man's untimely passing and a city in mourning. However, I do remember the pure euphoria of that moment, as a sellout crowd engulfed in sadness was permitted to release its tortured emotions in a joyful manner. This is one of my earliest memories of the Pirates.

3.) Freddy Sanchez continues dream season with walk-off single to lift Pirates over Cubs in 11 innings - August 30, 2006
I admit, this game might be this high because it is so fresh in my memory. Or maybe I am biased because Freddy Sanchez is silly-fantastic. Either way, this game was the highlight of the three walk-off wins I attended in 2006. Fresh off an 11 inning, come-from-behind win against the Cubs the night before, the Pirates looked for the sweep. This was an ugly game as far as pitching goes, with the two teams combining for 19 runs and 40 hits. Take a quick look at the line score and you can see exactly the kind of back and forth game this was. As the Pirates blew a four-run lead and then fell behind by two in the 11th, I began to sink into a deep depression. The kind of depression you can only get by watching the Pirates blow a game on a Wednesday afternoon in August. When you're at the game by yourself. When the Pirates have 20 hits, but only two are for extra bases, and one of those was by Victor Santos. Yeah, that kind of depression. However, my optimistic nature held on to the hope that the Pirates could rally in the bottom of the 11th, even though they had not scored since putting up two in the 5th. Xavier Nady led off and singled to right (still alive). A groundout moved him to second (sigh). Jose Castillo singled to right (yes, JOSE CASTILLO HIT A BALL TO RIGHT FIELD). Nady scored (I sat up a bit in my seat). Humberto Cota pinch hit and singled (what the hell is going on???). It was Cota's second consecutive game with a key pinch hit. Chris Duffy flew out to left (shoulders slump slightly) bringing up Jose Bautista with two outs (Freddy Sanchez is on deck, just get him to the plate!). Bautista walked to load the bases (holy crap, we're going to win! Freddy is up!). Sanchez stepped in with two outs, bases loaded, and the Pirates down by one. Those remaining from a very small crowd were standing, their minds numbed by a 14th consecutive losing season, screaming in support of one of the few heroes they had left. After taking a called strike, Sanchez reached for a pitch and rolled it softly toward first base (heart stops, I am clinically dead for four seconds). Somehow it spun just outside the line for a foul ball. The collective sigh of relief by the 1,000 fans remaining knocked Mike Benjamin off of his feet (why was he on the field?). Sanchez returned to the box and began fighting off pitches. Finally he got the pitch he wanted. It was a slider, well off the outside corner of the plate. Almost a perfect pitch. Almost. Somehow, Sanchez stretched out and poked it over the first baseman's head and down the right-field line. The ball seemed to roll right at me as I stood in section 101, row A. Castillo and Cota scored, the Pirates won, and finished off the sweep. All of the pain from the previous 14 seasons, from the 2006 losses to Liriano and the Twins, to the Diamondbacks, to the Royals, to everyone else, seemed to drain right out of me as I jumped up and down with my hands outstretched to the sky in pure jubilation. These are the games that keep me coming back to the park again and again despite so many painful losses.

2.) Pirates rally with four-run 9th, win in 10th - July 8, 2005
This seemed like your typical Pirates game. The Bucs were down 3-1 before the bullpen faltered, allowing two more runs in the top of the 9th to apparently put the game out of reach. In the bottom of the inning, back-to-back singles after one out kept the hope alive. One out later, Jack Wilson walked to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Tike Redman. Mets closer Braden Looper came in to face Redman, and an epic battle ensued. Redman fought off numerous pitches in what may be my favorite at-bat of all-time. Finally, he grounded one through the middle for a base hit. Two runs scored, and Redman represented the tying run at first base with Matt Lawton coming to bat. Lawton lined a pitch sharply to left-field, almost right at Cliff Floyd. However, Floyd misplayed the ball. At the last second he lunged for it, but it skipped past him to the wall. The crowd exploded as two runs scored and Lawton cruised into second with a game-tying double. He would be stranded, but the Pirates started up where they left off in the 10th. An error and an intentional walk brought Humberto Cota to the plate with two outs and the winning run at second. Cota ripped one into the left-field corner, and the Pirates improbable comeback was complete.

1.) Kendall's single, Vlad's error give Pirates win in 9th - May 30, 1998
Beach Towel Night is by far the best give-away the Pirates have had in recent years. Every time I have attended, the crowd is electric and the Bucs seem to play extremely well. The opportunity to wave a towel in the air must remind Pittsburghers of the Steelers or something, adding adrenaline. Any way, this game was my first experience at Beach Towel Night. I don't recall much from the major portion of the game. The Pirates entered the 9th inning trailing 7-5. They quickly loaded the bases with one out, putting the tying run at 2nd and the winning run at 1st. This is the point that this becomes my favorite game of all-time. As Jason Kendall walked to the plate, Three Rivers Stadium was the loudest I have ever heard it for a Pirate game. A sellout crowd waved their beach towels hysterically, and I was unable to think because of the deafening noise echoing around me. Kendall gave the fans what they wanted, lining a single into right field. As Tony Womack stormed around 3rd base with the tying run, Vladimir Guerrero fielded the ball and unleashed his powerful arm. To the delight of the crowd, the ball sailed well over the catcher's head and into the stands. This allowed Al Martin to score all the way from first base and the Pirates had won. The noise level grew as a full house celebrated with no restraint. This atmosphere was the best I can remember ever being a part of at a Pirates game, and that is why it tops this list of memorable games.

UPDATE: I promised this would be coming. There are a couple games that I forget while making this list, mostly because I can't recall much about them. I can't even find them on Retrosheet to get the details. The first was a walk-off homerun by Brian Giles at Three Rivers Stadium. Sadly that is all I can recall about this game. I am slipping in my old age. The second was a 15-inning win. I was very young at the time, and remember nothing about the actual game. The significance of this night was, as my dad and I returned to our car with big smiles on our faces, we found that the car was gone and had been replaced by a large pile of broken glass. I did get to ride home in the back of a police car though. Oh good times.


A New Pirates Generation said...

I'm a fan of the 18-inning game from this past year. One of my friends and I were there for the night that every seat was a two-for-one.

It's games like those that make Pirates' fans believe that Jose Castillo might turn out to be a big league hitter yet.


Matt said...

That was an unbelievable game, indeed. If I hadn't been working that night, I would have been there and that might have been #1 on this list. As it worked out, I watched that one on TV and attended the 15-inning game we lost against the Astros later in the season. That one wasn't quite as fun.

D.J. said...

I, too, was present at the Mets game in July of '05. I could remember the part about Tike Redman, only because I cried when he was brought to the plate since I figured he would make the final out.

My favorite game that I've been present at was on May 28, 2001 against the Marlins. The Bucs were down 5-1 going into the bottom of the 8th, but scored 7 runs (taking the lead on a 3-run shot by Pat Meares) in the inning and won 8-5. It was Tony Perez's first game as FLA's manager, and I dubbed it the Memorial Day Miracle. Also, little-used Andy Barkett got his first 2 Major League hits that game. History, indeed...hahaha.