On April 30, 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Chicago White Stockings squared off at Recreation Park, mere blocks from PNC Park's future address. The Alleghenys had jumped from the American Association to the National League over the offseason; Cap Anson's White Stockings had won consecutive NL Championships. But the upstart Alleghenys (four years before assertive offseason roster management would earn them the name "Pirates") took a 6-2 season-opening victory from the White Stockings (who would rechristen themselves "Cubs" sixteen years later) before nearly 10,000 spectators.
As in 1887, the current incarnations of those nineteenth-century foes will open their respective schedules on Monday at a sold-out PNC Park. The game represents the latest chapter of a distinctive vein of Pittsburgh's sports history. In the course of 126 years of National League baseball in Pittsburgh, the Pirates' spring home debut has assumed a singular status on the city's sporting calendar, largely independent of the ebb and flow of franchise fortune.
Notwithstanding the leveling impact—especially in the PNC Park era—of fireworks shows, certain interleague matchups, and summertime flings with respectable baseball, Pirates' home openers have generally tended to attract the home schedule's substantially largest audiences. This tradition may or may not reflect well on the city's baseball fandom. As Bucco-turned-Met Donn Clendenon, himself involved in eight Pittsburgh home openers from various perspectives and allegiances, observed shortly after spoiling the Bucs' 1970 opener with a game-winning two-run pinch-hit single in the eleventh inning, "This town only packs the stadium on opening day and on closing day, when they give something away." Sixteen years later, Dan Donovan of The Pittsburgh Press selected slightly more charitable words to describe the same phenomenon: "fans who come Opening Day are like lax Christians doing Easter duty—they come once a year to show they are still interested and stay home the rest of the year."
Whether at Recreation Park, Exposition Park, Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, or PNC Park, fans showing for the annual opening day rites have experienced one constant: Pittsburgh's vast spectrum of April weather. Scheduled home opener dates have drawn everything from game-canceling snowstorms to debris-strewing wind to summer-dreaming warmth. Not to mention the rain. Lots of rain. Enough precipitation to make the phrase "I'm in Pittsburgh, and it's raining" more than just a metaphor for struggling fictional heavyweights and subway-riding garage rockers. "Weeping Skies Fail To Dampen Fans," proclaimed a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline after an especially rain-plagued 1949 opener.
The home opener often provides those fans with their first glimpse of new players or leadership. As performance over the long haul represents baseball's truest measure, first impressions—of either individuals or teams—can have little correlation with enduring impact. Joyous seasons can follow dreadful openers. Dreadful seasons can follow sublime openers. But openers also can eerily portend the dreary baseball to follow, or, more agreeably, foreshadow a second baseman circling the bases on an October afternoon with the most famous home run in World Series history. To quote Chuck Berry—who once backed out of a concert appearance after the last game of a Pirates' home schedule because of unexpected case of extra innings—"'C'est la vie,' say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell."
To celebrate this history, I compiled a highly unscientific list of fifty memorable Pittsburgh home openers, ranked, roughly, by level of enjoyment for Pirates' fans, competitiveness, and historical significance. (A game's weather conditions did not factor into its level of enjoyment; one could, conceivably, enjoy the game on television or radio at home, rather than having to smuggle a flask of brandy under your blankets en route to those 600-level seats at Three Rivers Stadium.) I also added a quotation from a contemporary observer, usually from the local media, in hopes of providing an idea of what seemed important at the time. All games with Baseball-Reference box scores have links to those box scores; quotations likewise link to their sources, when available. And I dedicate this undertaking to longtime Pittsburgh bandleader Danny Nirella, whose performances heralded every Bucco home opener from 1909 to 1955.
50. April 4, 2000: Sometimes, a box score can lie. Baseball-Reference's box for this fin de siècle Bucs-Astros tilt, the final opener at Three Rivers Stadium, quotes an attendance of 54,399, a record for a Pittsburgh home opener. But that figure overstates the true number of eyewitnesses to Houston's 5-2 victory by approximately 40,000, thanks to consecutive nights of unfavorable weather: one washing out the scheduled opener and the next dissuading fans from the wind and 42-degree game-time chill of the make-up. Richard Hidalgo's sixth-inning grand slam into the left-field seats off Jason Schmidt, driving home three teammates who had reached on walks, provided the decisive blow—just as irrefutably to the shivering participants and spectators within the doomed concrete bowl as it might appear to those viewing the official box score today.
It was a shame, really. There should have been 54,399 in the stands. There should have been thunderous roars before the game when Jason Kendall was introduced for the first time since tearing up his ankle July 4 and when Bill Mazeroski—"the greatest second baseman in the history of the game," to quote Lanny Frattare—threw out the ceremonial first pitch. There should have been oohs and aahs for anthem singer Christina Aguilera, the local girl who made it big. The 14,610 cheered and oohed and aahed, but it wasn't the same.
— Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 5, 2000.
49. April 8, 1991: Destined for more victories than any other post-1979 Bucco squad, the defending NL East champs flirted with a dubious distinction before a then-record crowd of 54,272: Montreal's Dennis Martinez held the Bucs hitless until Barry Bonds singled to left field on a 3-1 pitch to lead off the seventh inning. The reigning NL MVP's hit would represent the Pirates' sole safety against the veteran Nicaraguan and two former Bucco relievers (Barry Jones and Scott Ruskin); on the other side of the ledger, the Expos pounded defending NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek and three relievers for fifteen hits in a 7-0 triumph.
Bonilla, despite his well publicized stalemate with the Pirates in contract negotiations, was greeted warmly when he led off the bottom of the second inning. But reaction to the next batter, Barry Bonds, was mixed. Bonds was booed lustily and cheered simultaneously. It may be that we are as ambivalent about him as he is about us.
— Bruce Keidan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 9, 1991.
48. April 10, 2006: On hand for the ceremonial first pitch of the home portion of what would become the Pirates' fourteenth consecutive losing season, actor Michael Keaton—who had established his Pittsburgh sports-fan credibility more than two decades earlier by naming his Mr. Mom character after Steelers' great Jack Butler—called out Bucco ownership during a pregame press conference. "I fear they will take advantage of the good will of the people who continue to show up," Keaton said. "For my money, that's disrespectful. At some point, you either have to write the check or do something and not assume, well, we're OK and, ultimately, the franchise is valuable, anyway, like Donald Sterling did with the Los Angeles Clippers." The subsequent on-field action made Keaton's animadversion a perfect prologue: the Dodgers rolled to a 5-0 advantage before Zach Duke could retire the side in the second inning and coasted to an 8-3 victory, the Pirates' seventh loss in eight games under new manager Jim Tracy.
I agree. The Bucs' fans have been too gracious. How bad have things gotten when the guy who throws the first pitch at the home opener feels the need to criticize the Pirates' owners before he does?
— Charlie Wilmoth, Bucs Dugout, April 10, 2006.
47. April 7, 1977: Chuck Tanner's tenure in the Bucs' dugout began inauspiciously on a cold and wet day: his pinstripe-clad Pirates committed three first-inning errors and failed to complete a potential inning-ending double play, spotting the Cardinals four unearned runs before the visitors took the field. As the afternoon progressed, the rain turned into snow and St. Louis' early lead metastasized into a nine-run advantage, finally settling to a 12-6 final margin. Thawing out in the aftermath, Tanner issued the first of many glass-half-full post-game pronouncements that Pittsburgh's newspapers would publish over the ensuing nine seasons: "We just didn't catch the ball. We just didn't field the ball. We got wiped out. It can happen to any ballclub."
The casual, take-it-or-leave-it fan, the one the Pirates must sell if they are to reverse the trend of declining attendance, had gone long before the final out. This is the fan who, I'm sure would have been able to accept defeat nobly on a lovely spring day; who would quickly forget the spate of first-inning errors which marred an otherwise acceptable performance by pitcher Jerry Reuss. Like Tanner, this fan might have found comfort in the hitting of Duffy Dyer and the casual, easy way Willie Stargell swung his bat. What won't be forgotten so quickly, though, is the icy, bitter rain which dripped down the back; the chilled fingers and toes; the damp, biting wind which whipped through the stadium decks.
— Pat Livingston, The Pittsburgh Press, April 8, 1977.
46. April 9, 2001: The pomp and circumstance of PNC Park's opening contained a somber counter-melody: news of Willie Stargell's death arrived hours before the first pitch. Four batters into the 80-degree afternoon, Cincinnati's Sean Casey—who finished with four hits and five RBI—made Upper St. Clair Township proud by driving a Todd Ritchie pitch over the Clemente Wall in right for the new ballpark's first home run. Marc Wilkins capped the disappointing debut by surrendering an inherited run in the eighth and four more of his own in the ninth, allowing the Reds to break the game open and secure an 8-2 win.
It's not surprising Stargell's stunning statue was the most popular spot yesterday. Some fans looked at it and cried. Others smiled, remembering the many hot summer nights when Stargell answered Bob Prince's plea to "spread some chicken on the Hill with Will." Dozens of flowers were placed at the base. A sign that read, "There is no family without Pops."
— Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 10, 2001.
45. April 26, 1995: One catastrophic play eradicated whatever goodwill remained among paying customers at Three Rivers Stadium for this strike-delayed opener. In action for the first time since the MLBPA walkout that had canceled the 1994 postseason and delayed the 1995 regular season, the Bucs trailed Montreal 2-1 with two outs and two on in the top of the fifth inning, and Jon Lieber induced Roberto Kelly to hit a harmless-looking bouncer to third baseman Jeff King. This modest beginning somehow triggered a tsunami of defensive ineptitude, ultimately including throwing errors by King and right fielder Orlando Merced, a botched tag at home plate by Lieber, and trips around the bases by Mike Lansing (scoring from third), Cliff Floyd (scoring from first—and getting hit in the face by Merced's errant throw), and Kelly. Disgruntled Bucco partisans responded to the unconventional three-run play by erupting into boos and littering the field with the night's giveaway item, plastic tubes containing Pirates' flags. The Expos cruised to a 6-2 triumph.
Throwing objects on the playing field is a no-no of significant proportions. But in these circumstances—with this play and the strike in mind—the gesture was somewhat apropos. It was certain to make the ESPN SportsCenter highlights. Some might mark it down as an embarrassing moment for Pittsburgh. Actually, since the plastic tubes were basically harmless, it was a gesture worthy of the moment.
— Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 1995.
44. April 27, 1893. Twenty-six-year-old Cleveland right hander Denton "Cy" Young had won the NL ERA title a season earlier, but the league moved the pitcher's mound back five feet—to a distance of 60'6''—for 1893. The change in proximity did not appear to affect Young's game in the season opener at Exposition Park; he held the Bucs scoreless after a two-run first inning, earning his seventy-third career victory in a 7-2 Spiders' triumph. Opposing Young, lefty Frank Killen surrendered four first-inning runs in his Bucco debut, including a home run by Cleveland's Cupid Childs. The Spiders ultimately swept the three-game series from the Pirates, but the Bucs would quickly correct their course; they finished '93 with an 81-48 record, good for second place in a twelve-team NL.
The game went to Cleveland without a murmur from the crowd, as it was won on its merits.
— The Pittsburg Press, April 28, 1893.
43. April 24, 1931: Still wielding one of the league's most potent bats as a 34-year-old player/manager, Rogers Hornsby treated Forbes Field to one of the most impressive slugging exhibitions by a visiting player in Bucco history. Hornsby clouted home runs in three consecutive at-bats-three-run blasts in the third and fifth innings and a two-run shot in the sixth-and finished with the formidable box-score line of "Hornsby, 2B 5 3 4 8." His efforts spearheaded the Cubs' charge from an early five-run deficit—built, in part, on Pie Traynor's second-inning three-run inside-the-park homer—to a 10-6 victory.
The rooters hooted [Hornsby] on his first appearance at bat and they haw-hawed as Tommy Thevenow flung him out. After that the Bruin commander responded to the razzing with a wallop every time he appeared at the plate. His first effort of the sort carried the apple over the left field fence. His next drive planted the sphere in the grandstand extension. Two bases were occupied in each of these instances, but only one runner was on the paths when the third circuit girder was uncorked. This one took a flight over the score-board.
— Edward F. Balinger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 25, 1931.
42. April 8, 1986: "We Play Hardball," declared the marketing campaign, and the off-season's overhaul of ownership, front office leadership, and field management gave fans hope for a new direction after consecutive last-place finishes in the NL East. But an unsympathetic schedule-maker slated Jim Leyland's major-league managing debut opposite the Mets and the hottest pitcher in Christendom, twenty-one-year-old defending NL Cy Young Award winner Dwight Gooden. The outmanned Bucs offered hints of feistiness—most notably, when R.J. Reynolds led off the bottom of the first by ripping Gooden's third pitch of the season into the seats in right-center—but Dr. K and the eventual World Champions proved too strong, quashing a ninth-inning Bucco rally and hanging on for a 4-2 win.
In the first, Joe Orsulak chopped a ball to pitcher Dwight Gooden. The Bill Madlock jog or George Hendrick lope might have been a response to such a batted ball last year. This year it was a flat out sprint to first base. Maybe twice in Orsulak's career such hustle will reap a benefit. But one of those times might be the time in question. He is willing to expend the energy. Jim Leyland will expect nothing less. Chuck Tanner would.
— Bob Smizik, The Pittsburgh Press, April 9, 1986.
41. April 13, 1990: Labor strife postponed the Bucs' initial Three Rivers Stadium appearance of the spring by ten days, resulting in a Good Friday home opener. With a season-opening series victory at Shea Stadium generating local optimism (game day headlines in Pittsburgh newspapers included "Call them new Pirates" and "Bonds' maturity already paying dividends for Bucs"), the Pirates failed to contain a pair of future Hall of Fame Cubs and lost 2-0. Ryne Sandberg's two-run, fifth-inning homer over the left-field wall off Bob Walk represented the evening's only scoring. Greg Maddux, celebrating his twenty-fourth birthday a day early, limited the Bucs to two Bonds singles through seven and two-thirds innings. In the ninth, the first two Buccos reached base against Chicago closer Mitch Williams, but Williams quashed the rally by picking Wally Backman off second base and striking out Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla to end the game.
Catcher Don Slaught, acquired by trade from the New York Steinbrenners during the winter, was the first to pull into the clubhouse. He arrived shortly before 1 p.m., a mere 6 ½ hours before singer Jill Corey, widow of former Pirate Don Hoak, stumbled over the national anthem (she had opening-day jitters) and Bill Mazeroski threw out the first pitch (his double-play throws to first base 30 years ago weren't any better).
— Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 14, 1990.
40. April 16, 1953: In the span of nine midgame outs, a frigid-but-normal 2-1 contest transmogrified into a 14-11 orgy of offense, thanks to a seven-run Pirates' fourth and six-run Bucco fifth, sandwiched around a nine-run top-of-the-fifth Phillies' counterattack. Many hitters thrived during the cold and wet afternoon—all nine members of the Bucs' starting lineup recorded at least one hit—but Philadelphia second baseman Connie Ryan racked up the biggest numbers of all, tying a then-major-league-record with six hits in a nine-inning game. Nevertheless, Ryan's efforts proved insufficient to prevent the Bucs, a year removed from the 42-112 "Rickey Dinks" fiasco, from holding on for a 14-12 victory.
Baseball most amazing and loyal clients, some 16,220 faithful, braved pneumonia yesterday afternoon at Forbes Field to see the Pirates open the 1953 home season with the Phillies in 34-degree damp and chilling weather. The hardy, or foolhardy fans, depending on one's view, were rewarded in the form of the home club's first win by a football score of 14 to 12 in a setting more suitable to the gridiron sport than a baseball game. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who use the same field in the fall, have played games in far warmer weather than was encountered yesterday.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 17, 1953.
39. April 6, 1979: Game-time mercury reached a mere 31 degrees, and winds gusting to 32 miles per hour spread discomfort and trash around Three Rivers Stadium. Three-time consecutive NL East bridesmaids, the Pirates showed scant promise of a glittery future, losing three baserunners to pickoffs (Omar Moreno and pinch-runner Matt Alexander) or outfield assists (Stargell's bid to stretch a single into a double in the ninth inning) and committing five errors. A hit batsman and the final two Bucco fielding miscues—Kent Tekulve's errant pickoff throw and Dale Berra's bobble of Ellis Valentine's bouncer—handed the young Expos the go-ahead run for their 3-2 win in ten innings. Signs of the times: umpires walking a picket line, fans booing Dave Parker, the Pirate Parrot leading cheers, distaff scribes in the clubhouse.
The Pirates successfully transferred a party atmosphere to Three Rivers, but as in a lot of parties, some participants got carried away. Several times fans jumped onto the field to beg for baseballs, one tough fight broke out, a man dressed as a gorilla ran on the field, kids set off firecrackers in the upper deck and a fan in centerfield almost hit Moreno with a bottle.
— Dan Donovan, The Pittsburgh Press, April 7, 1979.
38. April 26, 1900: Exposition Park's offseason expansion—a left-field stand increasing capacity by 2,000—lagged behind increased demand: the crowd of 11,000, a record for a baseball game in the city, still wound up rimming the playing field with an overflow of 2,000 fans. They came to see a Bucco starting nine revamped with six players harvested from the dying Louisville Colonels in a blockbuster December trade. But Cincinnati spoiled the "grand opening" by pounding Louisville import (and future-Hall-of-Famer) Rube Waddell for eight runs in the first five innings, capitalizing on six Pirate errors, and rolling to a 12-4 lead. A seven-run ninth-inning rally—with contributions from newcomers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke—provoked the remaining fans to shower the field with seat cushions, but ultimately left the Bucs one run short in a 12-11 loss.
The new pirates disgraced themselves by falling into the old pirates' way of playing their worst before a big crowd.
— The Pittsburg Press, April 27, 1900.
37. April 12, 1983: Acing a season-opening road trip for their first 5-0 start in seven years, the Pirates returned to a Three Rivers Stadium retrofitted with a new scoreboard, playing surface and paint scheme. But the defending World Champion Cardinals provided continuity with the previous summer via two pivotal tenth-inning plays. In the top of the inning, Keith Hernandez challenged the arm of newly acquired center fielder Lee Mazzilli on a shallow fly ball and bowled over Tony Pena to score the go-ahead run. The Bucs responded in the bottom of the frame by loading the bases with none out, but Eric Rasmussen induced eventual NL batting champion Bill Madlock to ground into a 1-2-3 double play, and St. Louis escaped shortly thereafter with a 4-3 victory.
But baseball is also the sort of chess game in which the rooks sometimes trip over their own shoelaces and pawns inexplicably overpower queens. Yesterday was one of those days. Tanner followed the recipe for success to the letter-and somehow the sandwich wound up peanut-butter-side out. Herzog, on the other hand, was more like the guy who had all his teeth pulled the day before his military-draft physical—then flunked because the doctors found he had fallen arches. On an afternoon when his managerial machinations were unquestionably brilliant, his team's 4-3 victory was the result of sheer happenstance.
— Bruce Keidan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 13, 1983.
36. April 7, 1970: The reigning World Champion Mets and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tom Seaver provided daunting opposition for Forbes Field's final home opener, but Bucco starter Steve Blass rose to the challenge: Blass's ten innings of three-run ball outdueled Seaver's eight innings of the same. Notwithstanding Blass's best efforts, however, the game remained tied at the end of his mound tenure; he needed a spectacular tenth-inning defensive play by 33-year-old Bill Mazeroski, ranging near the right-field line to pick up Cleon Jones's ground-ball single and throwing home to catch Tommie Agee trying to score from second, to avoid the loss. An inning later, New York finally broke through against relievers Chuck Hartenstein and Joe Gibbon, with Clendenon's two-run, pinch-hit single bringing in the deciding runs in the Mets' 5-3 triumph.
A number of unruly youngsters acted like Mets' fans of the old days. Gil Hodges' Mets acted like the world champions they are. The combination, plus a few other circumstances, spoiled what otherwise would have been an exciting opening day, probably the last opener at Forbes Field. When it was all over . . . the rubbish and paper cups littering right field . . . the shameful, flagrant defiance of the law by a few of the younger generation . . . and the gutty battling of the Mets . . . the Pirates lost, 5 to 3, in 11 innings. What could have been a dramatic, one-to-remember battle, a game baseball people would have been proud of, marred by incidents which seem to be part and parcel of what is prevalent in this country today.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 8, 1970.
35. April 10, 1974: Breakdowns by two veteran Bucco relief pitchers proved decisive in the Expos' thirteen-inning, 12-8 victory at Three Rivers Stadium. Nursing a 6-5 eighth-inning advantage, Danny Murtaugh called on longtime closer Dave Giusti for a six-out save. Giusti made it through the eighth with the lead intact, but Montreal scored three times in the top of the ninth for an 8-6 edge. One out from victory in the bottom of the frame, however, the Expos' Chuck Taylor surrendered a game-tying home run to Bob Robertson. Murtaugh then turned the ball over to lefty Ramon Hernandez, who pitched three scoreless innings before allowing four runs in the top of the thirteenth—saddling the Pirates with their third loss in what would turn out to be a season-opening six-game losing streak.
"Relief pitching is considered one of our strong points," Murtaugh said in between rocks on his trusty chair in the Pirate clubhouse. "It just hasn't done well yet. But you'll see me in some happier times," he promised a group of writers.
— Ed Rose Jr., Beaver County Times, April 11, 1974.
34. April 7, 2008: Pressing the "RESET" button on the rancidness of the Age of McClatchy, Littlefield and Tracy, the Pirates started the PNC Park portion of the Coonelly/Huntington/Russell years by spotting the Cubs a 7-0 lead through the top of the third inning, the biggest hit a bases-clearing double by Ronny Cedeno. Unbowed, the Bucs charged back furiously, finally squaring the game at 8-8 in the seventh. Victory appeared imminent the bottom of the ninth, but Brian Bixler hesitated to run home on Jose Bautista's safety squeeze, and the game remained tied. Three innings later, the eighth Bucco pitcher of the afternoon, rookie Rule 5 acquisition Evan Meek, surrendered two runs on no hits—thanks to five walks and two wild pitches—and the Cubs survived by a 10-8 margin.
It was a play the Pirates rehearsed often in spring training and executed once successfully last week in Atlanta, but it failed this time. Bixler broke from third, hesitated, then went back. Bautista was tagged by [Cubs' first baseman Derrek] Lee for an easy second out.
— Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 7, 2008.
33. April 17, 1968: Baseball remembers 1968 as the "Year of the Pitcher," when depressed offense pushed the lords of the game to lower the mound and redraw the strike zone. The Pirates' first Forbes Field appearance of that spring, however, proved atypical: the Bucs banged out seventeen hits—including fourteen singles—in a 13-4 win over Houston. The Astros, taking the field approximately thirty-six hours after a 24-inning victory over the Mets, struggled against the aggressive play of Larry Shepard's first Bucco team; the Pirates completed two double steals and Manny Mota scored from first base on a single. Al McBean benefitted from the offensive eruption, cruising to a complete game victory.
It was a perfect day weather-wise, almost perfect for the home boys. They laid it on the Astros like MacDuffs. The Pirates' batting punch, missing in the first five games of the season, broke out like an epidemic. This delighted new man Larry Shepard and old ticket buyers no little. Colorful Al McBean, who could become one of the best draws in baseball, was staked to thirteen runs wrapped around seventeen hits. It was a "Cigar Game" for the Gay Blade of the Bucs' pitching staff. We've seen Al in better form, but why strain when your teammates present you with a handsome lead.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 18, 1968.
32. April 8, 2002: In search of the Pirates' first home-opening victory in nine years, Lloyd McClendon deployed a trio of journeyman pitchers against the Reds. The combined forces of Ron Villone (pitching for his seventh team in a twelve-stop major league career), Mike Fetters (on the seventh team of an eight-stop career), and Mike Williams (back for a second stint with the Pirates after a trade to Houston the previous season; he would ultimately pitch for four major-league teams) yielded a four-hit shutout and a streak-breaking 1-0 win over Cincinnati, the Bucs' fifth consecutive triumph of the young season. Brian Giles produced the game's only run in the bottom of the sixth by doubling off former Bucco Elmer Dessens, moving to third on a balk, and scoring on Aramis Ramirez's sacrifice fly.
After Fetters bailed out Villone, the game was in the hands of Williams. A lot has been said and written about how Williams can put fans on the edge of their seats, but he has faced the minimum of 12 batters in notching four saves. "That was fun out there. The fans got on their feet. It was loud. You got chills going down your spine. It means a lot to a player," Williams said.
— Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 9, 2002.
31. April 20, 1932: George Gibson caught Pirates' rookie Nick Maddox's 1907 no-hitter against Brooklyn. Twenty-five years later, with Gibson back for his second stint as Bucco manager, hometown hurler Steve Swetonic nearly became the first Bucs' pitcher since Maddox to complete a no-hitter. Swetonic, a North Side native and Pitt graduate, held the defending World Champion Cardinals hitless until George Watkins lined a single to right with two outs in the eighth inning. Swetonic allowed two more singles in the ninth inning, but finished with a complete-game 7-0 victory. When the Pirates moved out of Forbes Field in 1970, no pitcher had come closer to a no-hitter there than Swetonic did. (In 1968, Bob Moose likewise lost a no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning.)
St. Louis players must have wondered at the size of the turnout yesterday. Here was a Pirate team able to draw 16,000 while the champions played to one-third that number in the opening game in St. Louis. It simply bore out the old contention that Pittsburgh, given promise of a hustling team, will always turn out to root for their favorites.
— Harvey J. Boyle, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 21, 1932.
30. April 22, 1892: A two-day run of steady rain continued throughout the Pirates-Cardinals encounter at Exposition Park, but the pervasive sogginess stopped short of the Bucco bats. The Bucs, exercising their home-team prerogative to bat first, scored twelve times in the top of the first inning and coasted to a darkness-shortened, seven-inning 14-3 win over St. Louis. Centerfielder Doggie Miller led the attack with four hits; all Pirates' starters except catcher Connie Mack hit safely. Pud Galvin, pitching in the final season of a Hall of Fame career, went the distance to earn the victory.
More than the usual number of ladies were present, and if the day had been anything like fine they would have helped to crowd the spacious grand stand at Exposition park. Those who braved the elements were nearly all seasoned enthusiasts, of whom there are not a few in this vicinity.
— The Pittsburg Press, April 22, 1892.
29. April 18, 1952: Save for the rival-league-plundered 1890 Alleghenys, one chapter in franchise history towers over the rest for sheer futility: the 1952 Pirates. Branch Rickey's attempt to infuse the Bucs' with youth resulted in a 42-112 mark and taunts of "Rickey Dinks," but flashes of a brighter future occasionally appeared. Their first Forbes Field appearance of the spring provided one such glimpse: twenty-one-year-old second-year pitcher Bob Friend, with four rookies supporting him in the starting lineup, threw a five-hit complete game shutout at the Reds in a 3-0 Bucco victory. One of the rookies, teenaged Hill District product Bobby Del Greco, contributed three hits—his second three-hit performance in his first three major-league games—including a triple.
Branch Rickey is a lover of good ball players and good music, but the Pirates and the 29,874 fans at yesterday's opener at Forbes Field treated him to the best melody of all. In the first place, the youthful Bucs brought back a 3-0 victory over Ewell Blackwell and the Reds. And secondly, the customers fell all over themselves welcoming Branch's beardless boys. Music to Rickey's ears. It was a great start at home for several of the rookies, notably Bobby Del Greco, the 19-year-old pride of the Hill.
— Lester J. Biederman, The Pittsburgh Press, April 19, 1952.
28. April 6, 1993: Much had changed since that fateful October night at Fulton County Stadium: Al Martin patrolled left field, Carlos Garcia manned second base, and Tim Wakefield had graduated from rookie sensation to opening-day starter. Tarpaulins covered approximately 12,000 upper-deck seats, hinting at lowered expectations for the three-time defending NL East champions. But the Bucs' initial contact with the new world order of life after Bonds, Drabek and Jose Lind seemed promising; rookie first baseman Kevin Young drove in four runs, Wakefield survived an uneven start (nine strikeouts and only two hits allowed in seven innings, but nine walks), and free agent returnee John Candelaria earned a four-out save in the 9-4 victory over San Diego.
That was Al Martin jogging out to left field instead of Barry at 7:35. Yeah, Al Martin was more than a rumor. He's really here; Barry's really not. There was finality about it. But Martin doubled and tripled and in fact looked more comfortable than Barry when he arrived from Hawaii at the end of May '86. How comfortable Pittsburgh can be with a team still learning how to shave is far from entirely clear, but more than 44,000 turned out on a great night for hockey to get a hard look.
— Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 7, 1993.
27. April 22, 1949: Cincinnati seized a 4-0 lead before the Pirates could retire the side in a rain-interrupted first inning, but the Bucs had the equalizer: the man The Pittsburgh Press called "Mister Slug," three-time defending NL home run champion Ralph Kiner. Kiner's third-inning grand slam off Howie Fox, landing in the Reds' bullpen, deadlocked the game. An inning later, offseason trade acquisition Clyde McCullough slashed a triple to the gate in right-center to score Eddie Bockman and give the Pirates a lead they would not relinquish. Making his major-league debut, lefty Bill Werle entered the game in the second inning and held Cincinnati scoreless for seven and two thirds innings, before veteran closer Hugh Casey recorded the final out in the Bucs' 5-4 win.
The downpour turned Forbes Field into an oversize natatorium, except the spectators didn't wear swim suits. Every time a player slid into a base, he'd have to go into temporary drydock and put on a dry pair of pants. Ground balls hit to the outfield needed outboard motors to keep them on the move. Kiner's grand slam homer didn't fall into Greenberg Gardens—it splashed.
— Vince Johnson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 23, 1949.
26. April 12, 1985: The season soon turned sour, but for one night—the first night home opener in Pittsburgh's history—all appeared well and good with the Buccos. A crowd of 47,335, the Bucs' largest home audience in over four years, showed up. Clad in a tuxedo, Mazeroski celebrated the silver anniversary of the '60 Bucs by throwing out the first pitch. Jason Thompson got the on-field party started with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first off St. Louis' Kurt Kepshire. With the eventual NL Champions threatening in the top of the ninth, Tanner summoned long-time starter Candelaria, who took the mound to Sammy Davis Jr.'s "The Candy Man" and closed out the Pirates' 6-4 victory.
This was no baseball game. It was a love-in, a city with the baseball team it may lose. When they finally finished counting heads—not until after the game was over, not having had much practice counting crowds with a computer rather than fingers and toes—it was learned that 47,335 had paid their way into Three Rivers. That didn't include the governor, who got in free and was among the 49,324 in the total house.
— Bob Hertzel, The Pittsburgh Press, April 13, 1985.
25. April 25, 1923: A pair of twenty-four-year-old corner infielders led a potent Bucco attack in a 7-3 win over the Cubs. Third baseman Pie Traynor, seeking to improve upon the 78 OPS+ output of his first major-league campaign, had four hits. First baseman Charlie Grimm, hoping to break through after three seasons with no better than an 88 OPS+, capped a five-run fifth-inning eruption with a home run into the right-field bleachers and added one of the Bucs' five triples. Overall, the Buccos battered three Chicago pitchers for fifteen hits, including nine extra-base hits. Venerable starter Wilbur Cooper went the distance for the win, striking out eight and walking only one.
Forbes Field patrons perhaps noted the difference in Traynor's action over a year ago. Last spring at this time, Pie was so nervous he could barely hold himself together. The year has done much to iron out this little trouble. Pie is off to a great start. His fielding has been clever and his hitting superfine.
— Chilly Doyle, The Gazette Times, April 26, 1923.
24. April 20, 1948: Rip Sewell flirted with retirement during the winter of 1947-48, but elected to forgo coaching and return to the mound. His first start of the season made the Pirates thankful he did; less than three weeks shy of his forty-first birthday, Sewell's arm and bat proved integral to a 3-2 victory over the Cubs. Sewell threw a complete-game six-hitter, with the only blemish a two-run Phil Cavaretta homer, and opened the Bucs' scoring in the third inning by driving a Russ Meyer pitch into the left field "Greenberg Gardens" for a solo home run. Three innings later, rookie second baseman Monty Basgall—playing in his second major-league game—broke a 2-2 tie and put the Buccos ahead to stay with his first major-league home run. A crowd of 38,546, exceeding the previous year's home opener's record by 330 souls, enjoyed the win in unseasonably warm 82-degree temperatures.
Remembering that he brought the Pirates luck last year when he took over the broadcast duties for a couple of innings, Bing [Crosby] went up to the WWSW booth at the start of the fifth inning with the Pirates behind 2 to 1. He immediately got Frankie Gustine out of his terrific spring slump with a slashing single to left field that drove in a run and tied the score. An inning later he told his listeners that Basgall hit a home run into Greenberg Gardens.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 21, 1948.
23. April 19, 1890: Weakened by mass defections to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players' League, the Alleghenys—mere months away from the "piracy" of Louis Bierbauer that would give the franchise a new name—drew a reported 1,200 fans to their opener at Recreation Park, significantly fewer than the 9,000 that the Burghers attracted to new Exposition Park for their contemporaneously-played opener. A franchise-worst 23-113 mark was the ultimate destiny of the reconstituted Alleghenys, but on this afternoon they would look sharp enough to compete: starting pitcher Pete Daniels (playing in his first major league game) singled past third base to drive in second baseman Sam LaRocque (playing in his third major league game) with the tie-breaking run in the top of the ninth inning (at this time, National League rules allowed the home team to bat first), lifting the Alleghenys to a 3-2 win over the Cleveland Spiders.
The game itself was a surprise to many, who anticipated an amateurish exhibition of ball playing, but went away agreeably disappointed, for seldom has a more interesting game been played at Recreation park when the league was in its palmist days.
— The Pittsburg Press, April 20, 1890.
22. April 27, 1943: Heading to the seventh-inning stretch, Frankie Frisch's wartime Bucs had failed to dent the scoreboard; the Reds, helmed by former Bucco manager Bill McKechnie, clung to a 1-0 lead. But "Onkel Franz," as The Pittsburgh Press called the Pirates' skipper, turned to a cadre of pinch-hitters to turn the game around. Frisch summoned Johnny Barrett to bat for venerable catcher Al Lopez in the seventh, and Barrett hit the deadened "balata ball" over first base for a double, scoring Huck Geary to tie the game. In the eighth, Johnny Wyrostek's two-out pinch-hit single drove in Elbie Fletcher with the go-ahead run, and rookie Tommy O'Brien's two-run pinch-hit single added insurance for the Bucs' 4-1 win.
The Pirates' victory temporarily de-emphasized whatever dissatisfaction has come out of the dead ball now in use, as the fans would put up with a squash or tomato if the home club manages to win with it.
— Harvey J. Boyle, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 28, 1943.
21. April 13, 1954: Friend's first pitch of the game ended one of the most remarkable quirks in the city's sports history: for the first time in sixty-one years, the Pirates' season opener occurred in Pittsburgh, rather than on the road. Dominated through seven innings by Philadelphia ace Robin Roberts, the Bucs seized the day in the bottom of the eighth and overturned a 2-0 deficit. Cal Abrams' sun-aided pop-fly single and a pinch-hit single by Bob Skinner—one of four Pirates making major-league debuts in this game, including starting double-play combination Curt Roberts and Gair Allie—tied the contest and chased Roberts, and Hal Rice's RBI double and Frank Thomas' sacrifice fly off reliever Jim Konstanty gave the Pirates their 4-2 winning margin. Twenty-four year old Vernon Law, back with the Bucs after two years in the military, took over for Friend and earned the victory with two perfect innings.
The fans liked the new Pirate double-play combination of Gair Allie at short and Curtis Roberts at second . . . Allie made a big league play to rob Ted Kazanski in the third inning and Roberts gave the customers a kick with the way he hounded ground balls.
— Les Biederman, The Pittsburgh Press, April 14, 1954.
20. April 18, 1947: Their ranks augmented by star-power acquisitions both on-field (AL home-run king Hank Greenberg, a winter purchase from Detroit) and off (Bing Crosby, a part-owner since the previous August and a morning arrival by train), the Pirates broke Forbes Field's twenty-year-old opening day record by drawing 38,216 spectators to their contest with Cincinnati. Players, spectators, and crooners alike noticed a significant alteration to the nearly three-decade-old park: a wire fence in left field, reducing the home run distance from 365 feet to 335 feet, which the Buccos had erected in hopes of catering to Greenberg's right-handed power swing. The Bucs proceeded to lay a five-homer barrage on the Reds—three landing in the "Greenberg Gardens" area—with the home runs coming not from Greenberg or reigning NL homer king Kiner, but from the less-heralded bats of rookies Wally Westlake (who hit two) and Roy Jarvis and veterans Billy Cox and Jim Russell. Building a seven-run lead off the power surge, the Pirates held off Cincinnati at the end for a 12-11 victory.
When [Crosby] walked through the stands at 2:20 o'clock on his way to the field the roar which greeted him was like a clap of thunder. Well protected by police and detectives, he waved affably to every one. He gave all a laugh, when in crossing the field, he stopped at home plate, grabbed a catcher's glob from the hands of a Red player and caught a couple of pitches. He made one throw to third base which got there on two bounces. Bob Hope should have seen that one.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 19, 1947.
19. April 16, 1982: Snow and frozen turf at Three Rivers Stadium wiped out a scheduled two-game season-opening series against the Expos; the Bucs' home debut would have to wait until after the team completed a road trip to St. Louis and Montreal. When they finally returned to Pittsburgh for the make-up opener, the Pirates outhit the Cubs 12-3 through nine innings, but averted a regulation-play loss only because of a wardrobe malfunction: Chicago reliever Bill Campbell's eighth-inning pitch broke the webbing of catcher Keith Moreland's glove and rolled to the backstop, allowing Lee Lacy to tie the game 6-6. The Buccos pushed across an equally unimposing winning run in the twelfth inning on a hit batsman, back-to-back sacrifice bunts (the first provoking a Cubs' error), an intentional walk, and Moreno's fly-ball single over a drawn-in outfield.
When the ink blot dried on yesterday's home-opening case study, the Pirates had escaped with a 7-6 victory and renewed sanity. True, it was their fifth straight one-run game, but it was more a case of the meek (Pena and Moreno) rising up to inherit some of the team's leadership duties. Moreno and Pena head the Pirates' Silent Minority. In a clubhouse full of extroverts, they operate in whispers. Off the field, they are quiet. Nevertheless, they have made some noises early.
— John Clayton, The Pittsburgh Press, April 17, 1982.
18. April 10, 1962: Leading the Phillies 1-0 with one out in the third inning of this season-opening tilt, the Pirates loaded the bases when Dick Groat singled to left off Jim Owens, Wes Covington dropped Skinner's high fly to left for an error, and Dick Stuart drew a walk. Clemente promptly cleared the bags by driving Owens' first pitch over the 406-foot sign in left field for a grand slam. It would take another 49 years—and the swing of the son of a man fatefully connected to Clemente—before the next bases-loaded Bucco homer on opening day. Friend, aided by some sharp fielding ("Even Dick Stuart got into the fielding act with several superb stops," noted The Pittsburgh Press), finished with a five-hit complete game in the Bucs' 6-0 win.
In his acceptance speech of an award presented him at the annual Eagles' clambake Monday night, Roberto Clemente had this to say: "Everybody pick us for sixth place this year. The best way to prove to yourself this wrong is for Pirates to bounce back-fight hard. I know something inside me explode when things are tough so I can do better." That these words were not a lot of hot air, Clemente set the fighting and explosion pattern for his teammates yesterday with a grandslam home run which got the Pirates off and running from the barrier in the 1962 race.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 11, 1962.
17. April 7, 1978: Candelaria and Rick Reuschel—seven seasons away from a brief stint as Pirates' teammates—started the season's schedule with a pitchers' duel. With the bases loaded and the scoreboard empty in the bottom of the sixth, Bill Robinson's hard slide into second prevented Cubs' shortstop Ivan De Jesus from making the relay throw to first on Stargell's potential double-play grounder, allowing Frank Taveras to score the go-ahead run. Candelaria would require-and get-no further scoring; he scattered seven hits (Reuschel, for his part, allowed only three in seven innings) to earn the complete-game 1-0 victory.
Picture Mayor Richard Caliguiri firing a high, hard strike to Ed Ott to begin the proceedings; a baritone rendition of the National Anthem that would've brought tears to General Patton's eyes; the returning prodigal, Manny Sanguillen, getting a warm, standing ovation; warm hot dogs and cold soft drinks, instead of the other way around. So it was only fitting that that home team win a 1-0 pitching duel in the best tradition of the Gashouse Gang, with perhaps the team's most popular player giving rise to the victory by taking out the other guys' pivot-man to prevent an inning-ending double play and allow the only run of the game to score.
— Phil Musick, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 8, 1978.
16. April 21, 1921: The Pirates and Reds treated a crowd of 28,000 to an afternoon-long exchange of hits, runs and leads. A 2-0 first-inning Bucco advantage turned into a 4-2 Cincinnati edge by the top of the third, which became a 6-4 Pirates' lead by the fifth, only to revert to a 7-6 Reds' margin in the seventh. The Bucs finally surged ahead for good in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to the efforts of men called "Possum," "Cotton" and "Rabbit": Possum Whitted's sacrifice fly drove in Max Carey and Cotton Tierney's triple-the seventh triple for the two teams that day-scored offseason trade acquisition Rabbit Maranville for an 8-7 lead. Rookie Moses "Chief" Yellow Horse, the first full-blooded American Indian to play major league baseball, limited Cincinnati's fifteen-hit offense to one run over the last three and two thirds innings to earn his first major-league victory.
The appearance on the mound of Moses Yellowhorse, the 20-year-old Pawnee Indian, helped to round out a perfect day for the opening-day rooters. Moses was the object of much interest largely on account of the many things that have been written about the youthful Redskin, and when Gibson decided to send him out to relieve Elmer Ponder a mighty shout swept the park.
— Charles J. Doyle, The Gazette Times, April 22, 1921.
15. April 24, 1929: Five years away from securing trivia-night fame as the last legal spitballer standing in MLB, veteran right-hander Burleigh Grimes gave the Pirates eleven gritty innings, limiting a powerful Cubs' lineup to four hits. But the Bucs squandered an early 4-0 lead to the eventual NL Champions, who finally drew even after capitalizing on shaky Bucco defense in the seventh and eighth innings. With Grimes off to the showers, the efforts of two new Pirates—local rookie Swetonic's two (dry-ball) scoreless innings and 36-year-old reclamation project first baseman Earl Sheely's walk-off double—brought home a 5-4 win in thirteen innings.
The Waner boys evidently are determined to be seen, whether their bats are heard or not. They have donned red flannel undershirts, and, believe me it's some passionate red.
— Ralph Davis, The Pittsburgh Press, April 25, 1929.
14. April 13, 1976: Wintertime marketing had promised a "Lumber Company," and the first Pittsburgh appearance of Murtaugh's last Bucco team presented a strong case for truth-in-advertising. The Bucs' lumber bashed out thirteen hits and induced twelve walks against five St. Louis pitchers. Parker led the charge with a home run and five RBI, Al Oliver had three hits and three RBI, and Manny Sanguillen had the only three-walk game of his career and three runs scored. Starting pitcher Jerry Reuss added two hits and two runs scored, but also distinguished himself on the mound, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finishing with a complete game in the 14-4 triumph.
One of these days, a pitcher is going to throw a baseball towards Dave Parker and this baseball, if it is particularly intelligent, is going to travel about 55 feet, realize what it's in for, and immediately return from whence it came. Dave Parker is so big and so strong that some day Bowie Kuhn may have to outlaw him. Standing next to Parker, big Willie Stargell looks like a little man.
— Bob Smizik, The Pittsburgh Press, April 14, 1976.
13. April 22, 1902: The defending NL champions marched into Exposition Park behind the Grand Army of the Republic Band and raised the first pennant in Pittsburgh's baseball history. Their initial five-and-a-half innings on Pennant Day hardly augured further glory; the Reds, who had finished thirty-eight games behind the Pirates in '01, seized a 3-0 advantage. But the Bucs, spurred by a record crowd of 15,000 ("the first taste of blood made the fans ferocious," observed The Pittsburg Press), cut the deficit to one with two runs in the sixth, tied the game on Ginger Beaumont's RBI single in the seventh, and went ahead to stay in the eighth when Tommy Leach hustled from first to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on winning pitcher Sam Leever's sacrifice fly. The 4-3 win gave the Pirates four victories in as many games; they would finish the season with the best winning percentage in franchise history.
Allegheny has at least once policeman who is a credit to the force—Captain Thornton. When the band was in danger of losing the path to the pennant pole, Captain Thornton took command and prevented a hitch. He also handled the record-breaking crowd perfectly.
— The Pittsburgh Press, 23 April 1902.
12. April 11, 1988: With the city buzzing over the young Bucs' 27-11 finish to the previous season, a record-shattering crowd of 54,089—the first baseball sellout in Three Rivers Stadium history—flocked to the North Shore to see the Pirates take on the Phillies. They saw hometown star power open the celebration: a tie-clad Fred Rogers threw out the ceremonial first pitch. They saw Bucco star power build an early lead: first-inning triples by Bonds and Van Slyke yielded a run, and Bonds' third-inning homer produced another tally. They then saw role power preserve the lead: rookie Vicente Palacios pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out sixth inning jam in relief of Drabek, and Mike LaValliere's bases-clearing triple in the eighth inning gave the Pirates their eventual 5-1 winning margin.
Robinson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and the game ended to the accompaniment of another ovation from the huge throng. "I'm really excited about seeing the response from the fans to the ball club so far," LaValliere said. "It's a really great feeling, and I can speak for the rest of the team, for the stadium to be sold out for the first time. It means something to us, and it's a reflection on the organization and the team."
— Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 12, 1988.
11. April 14, 1960: The Pirates' biggest home-opener crowd in twelve years witnessed a slew of positive omens on a sunny afternoon. Mazeroski, his improved physique drawing praise after a disappointing '59 campaign, slugged a home run and drove in four runs. Clemente knocked in another five runs on the strength of two doubles, a single, and a sacrifice fly that nearly reached the 457-foot mark. The Bucco middle infield duo of Mazeroski and Groat snuffed out three early Cincinnati rallies by turning ground balls into double plays. And Law went the distance for a seven-hit shutout in the Bucs' 13-0 win over the Reds.
Mazeroski, looking suitably emaciated, pulled the ball to left field as in 1958. The pitch he knocked over the scoreboard, Maz acknowledged, was a hanging curve.
— Roy McHugh, The Pittsburgh Press, April 15, 1960.
10. April 11, 1989: Their challenge to the Mets' NL East supremacy had yielded some stirring baseball over the previous two seasons, but ill fortune had already looted the '89 Pirates' chances before their initial appearance at Three Rivers: closer Jim Gott had suffered a season-ending arm injury during a season-opening road trip. Before the end of the first homestand, the disabled list would also claim Van Slyke, LaValliere and Sid Bream, throwing the Buccos into an irreversible tailspin. But on this night the Bucs and Mets lived up to the recent history of their rivalry. New York built a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning against Drabek, but the Bucs chipped away with a Glenn Wilson RBI single in the bottom of the fifth and tied the game with a ninth-inning run off Randy Myers. With the temperature plummeting towards freezing in the eleventh inning, Lind raced home on Bonilla's two-out dribbler up the third base line to give the Pirates a 4-3 win.
If mom and Father Tom hung on until the 11th inning last night, they saw Jimbo (his mom calls him Jimbo; he's 44) use what looked to be some bad words with umpire Gerry Davis, who had called Andy Van Slyke out at first for the second out. It was the kind of focused tantrum umpires would have treated as the pointless ravings of a desperate man three years ago, when Leyland was the equivalent of a public defender assigned a habitual hood. Now he is a respected attorney, with his den decorated by various manager-of-the-year type hardware, and he is trying to win a pennant out there.
— Gene Collier, The Pittsburgh Press, April 12, 1989.
9. April 18, 1912: In what The Gazette Times described as "one of the most bitterly contested games ever witnessed by an opening day throng in Pittsburgh," the Pirates and Cardinals stood on the verge of free baseball, tied at 3-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. But Bucco right fielder Owen "Chief" Wilson lined lefty Slim Sallee's pitch off the left-field fence and raced to third for a triple. When St. Louis shortstop Arnold Hauser bobbled Alex McCarthy's grounder, Wilson crossed the plate with the winning run. Wilson's triple increased his season total to two; he would ultimately set a major-league record that season with 36 three-baggers. Twenty-three-year-old spitballer Claude Hendrix allowed four Cardinals' hits in a complete-game victory.
With every game one sees the equality in the distribution of batting strength in the Pirate lineup. There was a time when the fans would look two innings ahead for the chance to get some runs. It is different now.
— James Jerpe, The Gazette Times, April 19, 1912.
8. April 9, 1963: Ninth-inning dramatics on both sides of the ball lifted the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Braves. After Mack Jones' RBI double off Bob Veale tied the game in the top of the ninth, Roy Face pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam, thanks to a sliding catch by Clemente and a line-drive double play. Milwaukee's Bob Hendley started the bottom of the frame with two quick outs, but singles by Bill Virdon and twenty-year-old rookie Bob Bailey-who had hit his first major-league home run off Lew Burdette in the seventh inning-put two men on for the pitcher's spot. Murtaugh called on Ted Savage to pinch-hit, and Savage came through with a single to left to drive in Virdon with the winning run.
There were the usual number of raucous odd balls in the throng. One happy drunk in a brown suit, pink shirt and pork-pie hat whooped it up long and loud from behind the home plate screen. He moved from one vantage point to another to the amusement of those about him. Oddest sight of all, though, was the lady sitting in one of the upper deck boxes contentedly puffing on a pipe. The gentleman with her smoked a pipe too. They're marked his and hers, no doubt.
— Al Abrams, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 10, 1963.
7. April 17, 1906: Venerable Bucco Deacon Phillippe and Cincinnati's Jake Weimer spent this deadball-era game scattering hits, but limiting damage on the scoreboard. The Pirates knotted the pitchers' duel at 2-2 with a run in the bottom of the ninth, and Bucs' centerfielder Bob "Globe Trotter" Ganley preserved the tie by fielding Cy Seymour's twelfth-inning single—the Reds' fourteenth hit off Phillippe—and gunning down Charley Carr at the plate. In the bottom of the twelfth, Wagner stroked a one-out double off Weimer, and came home for a 3-2 victory on rookie first baseman Joe Nealon's long single—his third hit of the game, and the thirteenth Bucco hit—over the head of centerfielder Seymour.
Nealon had difficulty in getting out of the ground after the game. The immense crowd all wanted to get a good look at him, and as he started to leave the field he was surrounded by hundreds of newly-made admirers, who slapped him on the back, patted him on the shoulders, and jostled him about until for a moment it looked as if he might be crushed to death. Nealon is a big fellow, but he was like a straw buffeted by the angry wind in that crowd. It was useless to try to get away, and Joe had to submit to the demonstrations of the people.
— The Pittsburgh Press, April 18, 1906.
6. April 24, 1934: Traynor's sore arm and Paul Waner's charley horse gave the Pirates a Cooperstown-worthy trainer's table, and their resulting reserve-fortified lineup appeared little match for a St. Louis squad destined to earn the title "Gashouse Gang" in the months ahead. But the Bucs shaved a run off a 4-1 Cardinals' lead on an eighth-inning RBI single by Traynor's replacement, Tommy Thevenow, driving in Arky Vaughan, and an inning later singles by Earl Grace and Wally Roettger brought Freddie Lindstrom to the plate as the potential winning run against reliever Jessie Haines. The Bucco leftfielder won the battle of future Hall of Famers by driving Haines' pitch over the wall in left for a three-run walk-off homer, giving the Pirates a 5-4 win over the eventual World Champions.
Lindstrom hadn't managed to land the ball in safe territory in his four previous trips to the plate. He had been saving his energy for the supreme moment. He now took his place, picked out one of Haines' offerings and took a solid swing. he apple floated over the left wall into Schenley Park and Lindy trotted home behind Finney and Roettger. The throng for a moment could not fully realize that the game was ended, but upon getting the drift of the thing, those fans cut loose with a grand chorus of whoops that told how much they really had enjoyed the chilly curtain-hoisting.
— Edward F. Balinger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 25, 1934.
5. April 10, 1987: Nine days after swapping his Bucco black and gold for Cardinals' red in a blockbuster trade, Pena lay writhing near home plate at Three Rivers Stadium, his left thumb broken by a ninth-inning Brian Fisher pitch. When Curt Ford doubled down the right-field line three batters later, pinch-runner Steve Lake and Terry Pendleton scored to erase a 3-1 Pirates' lead and tie the game. But Bucs' third baseman Jim Morrison, largely responsible for the previous Bucco advantage with a pair of home runs, possessed two more decisive arrows in his quiver: an alert defensive play on Ozzie Smith's ensuing chopper to trap Ford in a rundown and preserve the tie, and a walk in the bottom of the ninth to put a runner on base for Bream to drive in with a game-winning double off the right-field wall.
The pictures of Pirates hugging and embracing like French generals is disgusting, to say the least. Ty Cobb would sharpen his spikes so they would cut a hapless infielder who had the temerity to tag him out. Now players use pantyhose and women's sprays. And our national game has suffered in proportion.
— Letters To The Sports Editor, The Pittsburgh Press, April 19, 1987.
4. April 12, 1965: Noted hitting coach Harry "The Hat" Walker made his Pittsburgh managing debut, but Juan Marichal mystified the Pirates' offense: five Bucs took called third strikes the first time through the order and only one Bucco baserunner reached second base through nine innings. Veale, however, matched the San Francisco ace zero for zero, holding the Giants to three hits and sending the game to extra innings in a scoreless tie. After Veale retired the Giants in order in the top of the tenth-extending his streak of consecutive batters retired to nineteen-Bailey drove a 1-2 Marichal curveball 425 feet over the left-field fence for a 1-0 walkoff win.
Willie Mays is on second base with two out. Jay Alou rams a single to right field. It's as easy a way to score as hitting the ball out of the park. Sometimes. Mays is around third and he pulls up, skidding. Alou hit the ball too hard and he hit it straight at Roberto Clemente, whose throw comes hopping across the infield, strong and low. Jim Pagliaroni is down on his knees, scooping up the ball, and Willie Mays scuttles back to third.
— Roy McHugh, The Pittsburgh Press, April 13, 1965.
3. April 14, 1980: Sisters Kim, Debbie, Joni and Kathy Sledge showed up to serenade the defending champions with the previous summer's fight song and the "Star-Spangled Banner," the Bucs received their World Series rings, and everyone got drenched: three rain delays delayed the game's conclusion by over two hours. The downpour downsized Chicago's potential go-ahead ninth-inning rally into a mere game-tying two-run frame, as two potential gap-shots off Tekulve died on the soggy turf and Ken Henderson slipped and fell after rounding second. Bill Robinson made the most of the reprieve by homering to centerfield off Bruce Sutter in the tenth inning, lifting the Pirates to a 5-4 win.
Still, Tanner couldn't wait to show off his ring to the press, crushed around him after the rain-delayed victory which dragged on for more than five hours. Its 10 diamond chips set in a gilded letter P, its golden crown engraved with the words "We are Family," the ring had Tanner drooling. "Beautiful, isn't it," gushed Tanner, as he modeled the ring on a gnarled finger of his glove hand. "Now we've got to get a few more. I've got more fingers."
— Pat Livingston, The Pittsburgh Press, April 15, 1980.
2. April 11, 1975: For eight innings, veteran Mets lefty Jerry Koosman dominated a strong Pirates' lineup, maintaining a 3-0 lead and limiting the Bucs to seven singles. Ninth-inning base hits by Richie Zisk, Parker and Sanguillen broke up the shutout and caused New York manager Yogi Berra to summon rookie Rick Baldwin from the bullpen. Baldwin failed to halt the Bucco charge: after a walk and fly out, Rennie Stennett bounced a bases-loaded single up the middle to drive in Parker and Sanguillen for the tie. Berra went to his bullpen again, calling on lefty Mac Scarce, but Richie Hebner spoiled the strategy by blooping a broken-bat single between shortstop Bud Harrelson and leftfielder-and former Bucco-Gene Clines, bringing Paul Popovich home to clinch the dramatic victory.
Bundled in the protective clothing one usually associates with a late-season football game, the crowd arrived early. Proving that it wasn't a day for baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, but rather a day for baseball (maybe), thermal underwear, hot chocolate and long woolen mittens, many exited early. If nothing else, that proved that the fans were in mid-season form. A few heartbeats later, the Bucs proved that were in mid-season form, too.
— David Fink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 12, 1975.
1. April 6, 1973: Regrouping at Three Rivers Stadium ninety-six days after the death of Clemente, with Sanguillen in right field and Al Oliver batting third, the Pirates appeared lost without their longtime leader, falling behind Bob Gibson and the Cardinals 5-0 by the third inning. Two midgame tallies—Oliver's sixth-inning sacrifice fly and Hebner's seventh-inning missed-take-sign solo homer—made the score respectable. But that proved mere prelude to the home half of the eighth, when the Buccos tagged Gibson and reliever Diego Segui for five two-out runs, with Hebner's broken-bat two-run double and pinch-hitter Clines' two-run triple, just out of the reach of left fielder Lou Brock, causing the most damage. The 1973 season, an 80-82 blemish in the middle of five NL East championships, would feature many trying experiences for the Bucs, but this 7-5 triumph demonstrated that they could spin sweet memories out of their grief.
Mercifully, a reporter asked Sanguillen if he had been nervous before the game. "I never have it in my mind or my heart that I am going to play right field," he said. "I was not nervous because I didn't put pressure on myself. I do not belong out there. I am a catcher. The Great One was there for 18 years. I have to go there because God took him away. I can't explain what I feel . . . I do not have the words. I am going to do my best."
— Phil Musick, The Pittsburgh Press, April 7, 1973.