Neil Walker hit a walk-off solo homer in the tenth inning to beat the Cubs 1-0 on Opening Day.
The first nine innings were a formula that we've seen on previous Opening Days (see 2013 and 2012) -- a great Pirates pitching performance, but not much offense at all. On the positive side, Francisco Liriano looked even better than his 2013 self. If you were a Cubs righty against him this afternoon, you had a tough enough assignment. If you were a Cubs lefty, forget it. Liriano had 10 strikeouts through six shutout innings, frequently looking dominant, and as with Liriano's performance against the Reds in last year's Wild Card game, his left-handed opponents had no answer for his excellent slider.
Unfortunately, the Pirates couldn't get anything going against Jeff Samardzija, which left the Bucs' bullpen to pick up the slack. And they did, again recalling 2013 and the Bucs' dominance in relief. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli (pitching a tie game at home in the ninth!) and Bryan Morris all pitched scoreless innings. Morris threw hard, as advertised, in his, and if the Pirates can turn him into another tough, flame-throwing late-inning guy, the Pirates' bullpen should be very tough to beat yet again.
The Bucs' terrific pitching allowed them to get to the 10th, when Carlos Villanueva threw a changeup that Walker belted to right field, raising his arms in triumph as soon as the ball left his bat. It's only been one day, but the Pirates are 1-0, and this was a victory in keeping with the high standards of play and entertainment value they provided last year.
What else? Well, Barry Bonds and Jim Leyland were in town. Andrew McCutchen's mom sang the National Anthem. The Cubs made the first challenge in MLB history and lost (on Samardzija's sacrifice attempt, which turned into a third-to-first double play). And the Pirates made a challenge and won. It was a good day, overall.
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