The Pittsburgh Pirates were in black and gold, their black tops adorned with the gold “P” on the left chest. A night game, the Pirates were coming into the contest 43-36, a record that had entirely been unbecoming of the Bucs over the last two decades. AJ Burnett was on the mound for Pittsburgh; Lucas Harrell for Houston.
It was a back and forth, fairly high scoring affair. The Astros, still members of the National League Central, went up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. The Bucs countered with two to cut the deficit in half 4-2. After two more for Houston in the sixth, making it 6-2, Pittsburgh plated three, 6-5. By the time the contest reached the ninth inning, it was 7-6, Pirates.
Things got a bit sticky from there, after closer Joel Hanrahan allowed a one out walk to score on a Jason Castro double, equaling the game at 7-7. A flyball to deep center off the bat of JD Martinez resulted in the end of the inning, but there was at least another half inning to play.
Houston’s Wesley Wright entered the game and got Gorkys Hernandez to strikeout swinging. Then, up came Drew Sutton.
Sutton had a largely forgettable career, bouncing around with five different clubs over the span of four seasons, playing in a total of 128 career games. A career 0.1 bWAR player who hit four home runs in his brief major league experience, Sutton spent his final glorious days in a big league uniform in Pittsburgh.
Appearing in 24 games for the Bucs, Sutton carried a below average OPS+ of 91, striking out in 35 percent of his at-bats. Oh, and he hit one home run.
It was July 3, 2012. Less than two weeks before the All-Star Break, which was hosted in Kansas City, and less than a month before Pittsburgh’s massive collapse that ultimately saw them finishing with a 79-83 record, cementing another season of sub-.500 baseball.
At game time, Houston wasn’t the formidable juggernaut we now know them to be. It had been seven seasons since the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series. It was a year in which a team led by Lucas Harrell, Wilton Lopez, Jed Lowrie and Justin Maxwell and captained by manager Brad Mills, finished 55-107.
But on this night, it was much less about the opponent and much more about the moment. On a 1-1 breaking ball, Sutton had found his moment. On a ball that stayed just a bit too high in the zone, breaking from outside of the zone into the outer third, Sutton sent a ball careening towards just left of the “Pirates” shrubs in centerfield.
“How do you like Pittsburgh, Drew Sutton?” was Greg Brown’s call that came screaming over the airwaves. It was Sutton’s first – and last – walk off homerun in Major League Baseball. But it was a moment cemented in my mind, a stamp on a season that seemed destined to at least finish above .500.
Alas, it was not to be. While Sutton’s career might’ve fizzled to a quiet ending, making 16 more appearances with Pittsburgh before spending the next season with Boston’s triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox (or, PawSox), the Pirates season crashed and burned.
The Pirates would go 11-17 in August before completely floundering to a 7-21 mark in September, sealing their fate at four games below-.500.
But for that night, magic was kept alive in what had been an incredible and electrifying season to that point. And for that night, Pirates fans could share in the moment with Sutton, a largely unknown figure, raising him to cult status in the eyes of some. And that moment, with Brown on the call and my family watching together on television, will surely be remembered throughout my household even as the years continue to roll. For that one moment, Drew Sutton was great.