Last night was one of the most memorable games in Pittsburgh Pirates history, and easily the most memorable game in the last 21 years. It doesn’t beat any World Series victory, but considering the long drought away from the playoffs, and considering how the game played out, you couldn’t have picked a better way for everything to go. It was filled with a lot of key moments and a crowd that was going nuts, with “Let’s Go Bucs” chants starting 30 minutes before the game. Here are my top ten moments from last night’s Wild Card victory.
10. The introductions
During the introductions I looked up and noticed that TBS was doing in-studio analysis. I was surprised that they weren’t showing the live feed. Nothing they could have said would have been better than that moment. Every Cincinnati Red was getting the biggest boos of their career. Every Pittsburgh Pirate was getting the biggest cheer of their career. It was a lively atmosphere that set the tone for the rest of the night, and may have even assisted the Pirates win.
9. Jason Grilli closes it down
It wasn’t a save situation. It wasn’t high leverage. But Jason Grilli came in and shut down the Reds in the ninth to close out the game. That included two first-pitch outs to Todd Frazier (flyout) and Zack Cozart (groundout).
8. Russell Martin Hit His Second Homer
The first home run from Russell Martin was bigger, but the second home run was historic. It made him the second Pirate to hit multiple home runs in the post-season. It also put the game further out of reach in the seventh inning, giving the Pirates a 6-1 lead.
7. Todd Frazier Hits a Foul Ball
PNC Park had a ton of momentum last night. The Pirates were up 3-1 in the fourth inning with two outs when Todd Frazier stepped to the plate with two on base. Frazier launched one pitch to left field, which immediately sent the crowd silent. The pitch hooked foul, but would have been a three run homer and a game changing moment if it had gone out. Instead, the crowd at PNC picked up the noise again, Frazier struck out, and the Pirates didn’t look back.
6. Zack Cozart’s Error
The Pirates were up 2-0 in the third inning with a runner on first and one out. Marlon Byrd came to the plate and hit a hard grounder to Zack Cozart at shortstop. The ball was hit hard, and directly at him. It could have been a double play, and should have been one out. If it had been one out, then Pedro Alvarez would have ended the inning in the next at-bat with a fly ball. Instead, Cozart booted the play, Andrew McCutchen went from first to third, and scored the third (and eventual winning) run on Alvarez’s sac fly.
5. Marlon Byrd Homers
There was a feeling prior to yesterday’s game that Liriano vs Cueto would be a pitcher’s duel. If you followed the Pirates, you had to feel like that wouldn’t end well, no matter how Liriano pitched. So when Marlon Byrd homered to lead off the second inning, it provided a sigh of relief. The Pirates got on the board first. Liriano looked dominant the first six batters, and to get on the board early against Cueto looked huge. But the real downfall of Cueto would come later that inning.
4. Sean Marshall Ineffective Against Lefties
The Pirates have had problems all year against lefty specialists. As a team they’re great against left-handers, mostly because they can throw out a platoon lineup that can hit a left-handed starter. But late in the game, teams can bring out a lefty pitcher to turn Neil Walker around, or pitch to Pedro Alvarez, Justin Morneau, or Garrett Jones. That happened in the fourth inning. The Pirates were up 3-1 when Starling Marte doubled. That ended Johnny Cueto’s night, and brought in Sean Marshall to face Neil Walker. Normally that’s not a good matchup, but Walker made it work, doubling off the wall in left field to bring in Marte. Marshall then intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen, followed by a walk of Justin Morneau — who doesn’t have good results against lefties — to load the bases. That set up the next moment…
3. Justin Morneau Avoids a Double Play
This didn’t get as much attention last night as it should have. With one out and the bases loaded, Marlon Byrd grounded to second baseman Brandon Phillips. Morneau was heading to second base. And stopped. Phillips looked like he was going to make a tag on Morneau, then go to first. Instead he had to make a delayed throw to second to get the force out. That allowed Walker to score from third, putting the Pirates up 5-1 instead of 4-1.
2. Francisco Liriano Owns Joey Votto
Liriano had a rough start to the fourth inning. He hit Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch, then gave up a single to Ryan Ludwick. That brought up Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce. The biggest threat may have been Votto, but Liriano quickly recovered and struck him out on three straight sliders. Perhaps one of the most amazing things about the night was that Votto went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, and Liriano (and Tony Watson in the 8th) only needed ten pitches combined to get that result.
1. Russell Martin’s first home run.
Everything about this home run will define this game. When you think about the game, you’ll think about this moment. The crowd started chanting “Cue-to”. Johnny Cueto dropped the ball when stepping on the mound. The crowd got even more into it. The next pitch was deposited into the seats by Russell Martin. And the “Cue-to” chants never stopped. And if you want to see it again, here you go: