Earliest Pirates Opening Days

Twice in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team has opened up their season in March. The first one came in 2003 when Kris Benson shut down the Cincinnati Reds en route to a 10-1 victory. Benson went 6.1 innings, allowing just one unearned run before Julian Tavarez and Joe Beimel finished off the game. Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders each homered in their first game with Pittsburgh. Jason Kendall even added a homer, his was a back-to-back shot following the one hit by Lofton.

In 2008, the Pirates played their only other March regular season game. That one was a bit more exciting than the first game. They ended up beating the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field by a 12-11 score in 12 innings. The Braves scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth off Damaso Marte and Matt Capps to tie the game. Then in the 12th inning, Pittsburgh scored three runs on a home run by Xavier Nady, only to see the Braves make a comeback again, falling just short with the tying run on base. The game took four hours and 28 minutes to play, ending right before midnight.

Prior to 2003, the Pirates had opened up as early as April 1st, doing that three straight years from 1996-98. You have to go back twelve years prior to that to find the next earliest opener. In 1984 the Pirates lost to the Padres in San Diego on April 3rd by a 5-1 score. Rick Rhoden was on the mound and names such as Doug Frobel, Amos Otis and Marvell Wynne were in the starting lineup. Wynne was a one man wrecking crew that day, hitting two doubles and a triple, while scoring the Pirates only run in the first inning on a Johnny Ray groundout.

In 1974 the Pirates had their earliest Opening Day up to that point when they started their season on the fifth day of April. They lost a tough one that day, going down 6-5 in 11 innings in St Louis. Bob Gibson was on the mound against Jerry Reuss and Richie Hebner provided the Pirates offense with three hits, three runs and three RBI’s. Prior to 1974, the Pirates had opened up on April 6th twice, 1971 and 1973. The game in 1973 was the first one they played after the death of Roberto Clemente. Pittsburgh won that game, played at Three Rivers Stadium by a 7-5 score but it took five runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to secure the victory. The person who started that rally was Manny Sanguillen with a one out single, he was playing right field that day.

That 1971 opener was the last of three straight times the Pirates played their earliest regular season game. In 1970 they opened on the 7th and 1969 they opened on the 8th for the first time.

Going back to 1959, you come across the first time the Pirates played before the date hit double digits in April. On April 9,1959 the Pirates lost 4-1 to the Reds. The pitcher that day for Cincinnati was former Pirate Bob Purkey and he went nine innings, allowing just that one run on a RBI single by Clemente in the third inning. The Pirates lost five in a row to start that season before finishing their sixth game in a tie and eventually winning in game seven of the year.

Before 1959, the earliest the Pirates ever started their regular season was on April 11th. The last of four times actually came 31 years earlier and they were playing as the defending NL champions that day. The game saw Pirates great, Ray Kremer on the mound going up against the Cardinals, led by future Hall of Fame pitcher, Jesse Haines. It was not a pretty game for the Pirates, going down 14-7 in a slugfest. That game featured seven Hall of Fame players in the starting lineup, Haines, Frankie Frisch, Jim Bottomley and Chick Hafey for St Louis and Pie Traynor and the Waner brothers for the Pirates.

The Pirates also opened up on April 11th in 1907, 1912 and 1917. You then go back to 1892 when they first began the season as early as April 12th(they also played on the 12th in 1906). On that date, the Pirates visited Cincinnati to face pitcher Tony Mullane. He had already amassed 238 career wins and five times he won over 30 games in a season. Likely the only reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he was suspended during the entire 1885 season for jumping his contract. He won 36 games in 1884, 33 games in 1886 and 284 career games. The Pirates ended up winning that 1892 opener by a 7-5 score behind Mark Baldwin. That 1892 season would be the fourth straight season Baldwin pitched at least 437 innings during the year.

We now go back to the Alleghenys part of the franchise history, before the team moved to the National League in 1887. In the fourth season for the franchise, Pittsburgh played their first April game. They beat St Louis that day by a 7-0 score with Ed “Cannonball” Morris on the mound. The next season, their last in the AA, they actually played an Opening Day doubleheader. It was again played in St Louis and Morris started the first game. He was followed by Hall of Famer Pud Galvin in game two but despite the fact Morris was a 39 game winner and Galvin a star pitcher of the day, the Alleghenys lost both games rather easily.

Just like March openers are rare in Pirates history, May openers are nearly just as rare. You have to go back 128 years to the last time Pittsburgh opened in May, and barring a strike to begin the season(Pirates opened on April 26th in 1995) you will likely never see another May opener.

On May 2,1882 the Pirates franchise played their first game. It was also the first game in the history of the Cincinnati Reds franchise. The Alleghenys won that day despite a one-sided pitching match-up in favor of the Red Stockings. Will White was on the mound for Cincinnati. In 1879 he set records that will never be broken, 75 complete games and 680 innings pitched. Jack Leary was on the mound for the Alleghenys. He had a career 0-3 record at that point and actually played more games at shortstop, center field, right field and third base than he did as a pitcher in his career. He won just three games in his career including a 10-9 win over 229 game winner Will White on May 2,1882.

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