Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two pitchers from the worst team in franchise history, that were born on the exact same day. We also have two trades to discuss, as well as a Jolly Roger Rewind from John Fredland, with a great comeback against the Astros.
On this date in 1939, the Pirates traded first baseman Gus Suhr to the Phillies in exchange for pitcher Max Butcher. Suhr played ten years for Pittsburgh and ranks near the top of the team’s all-time first baseman list. He played 1365 games for the Pirates, hitting .278 with 789 RBI’s. By the time this trade happened though, he was nearing the end of his career at age thirty-three. The Phillies got just 70 games out of him before releasing him. Gus ended up playing over 600 more minor league games after being released but never played in the majors again. Butcher was a 28 year old righty with a 2-13 record at the time of the deal. He had a career record at that point of 28-46 in four seasons. After the deal, the move to Pittsburgh helped Butcher, who finished up 67-60 3.34 in 202 games over seven seasons with the Pirates.
On this date in 2000, the Pirates sent left fielder Wil Cordero to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for infielder Enrique Wilson and outfielder Alex Ramirez. Cordero was with Cleveland in 1999, hitting .299 in 54 games. The 28 year old had been in the majors since 1992 and in 1994, he was an All-Star shortstop for the Expos. With the Pirates, he hit .282 with 16 homers and 51 RBI’s in 89 games. He played 34 games for Cleveland in 1999 without hitting a homer. Cordero bounced around the majors, playing until 2005, when he hit just .118 for the Washington Nationals. Wilson had just turned 27, he was in his fourth season with Cleveland, hitting .287 in a total of 190 games. A top ranked prospect in their system, he played 3B,2B and shortstop. He played 86 games for the Pirates, hitting .223, before being dealt to the Yankees for Damaso Marte. Ramirez was a 25 year old, who had hit well in parts of three seasons with Cleveland, batting .286 with eight homers and 30 RBI’s in 92 games. With Pittsburgh he had some trouble at the plate, hitting .209 in 43 games with a 7/32 BB/SO ratio. After the season, he was sold to Japan, where he still plays and he has hit over 350 homers, giving him nearly 500 homers as a pro.
Carmelo Martinez (1960) First baseman for the 1990-91 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him from the Phillies on August 30,1990 to help with their first pennant run in 11 years. Martinez hit .211 in 12 games for Pittsburgh, getting three starts. He started twice in the NLCS against the Reds and went 2-8 with two doubles and two RBI’s. Carmelo began the 1991 season with the Pirates, but was dealt to the Royals in early May for pitcher Victor Cole. That 1991 season ended up being his last year in the majors, ending his nine year career with a .245 average, 108 homers and 424 RBI’s in 1003 games. Martinez as a rookie helped the Padres get to the World Series in 1984, where he hit .176(3-17) in both the NLCS and the Fall Classic. The next year he hit 21 homers, drove in 72 runs and walked 87 times, with a league leading 14 assists from left field, his best season in the majors.
Duke Esper (1867) Lefty pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys and the 1892 Pirates. He had two stints with Pittsburgh, playing for two drastically different teams just two years apart and his results were the exact opposite. As a rookie in 1890, Esper began the year with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, where he went 8-9 4.89 in 18 games. After being released in August, he signed with the Alleghenys and made two starts, both one-sided losses. Pittsburgh went 23-113 that season and they tried out a ton of players just to get through the season. Esper then went to the Phillies to finish the season, his stay in Pittsburgh done almost as soon as it started. In five starts with the Phillies, he went 5-0 and remained with the team through the first half of the 1892 season. In 1891, Esper went 20-15 for the Phillies, then he was at 11-6 through early August, when he rejoined the Pirates. Duke made three starts for Pittsburgh, going 2-0 with one complete game, for a team that won 80 games that year.
The next two seasons proved just how much of an effect a bad team can have on a pitcher’s record, and vice-versa for a good team. Esper went 12-28 in 1893 for the Washington Senators, a last place team in the 12 team NL. Those 28 losses led the league. The next year he was purchased by the first place Baltimore Orioles, where he went 10-2 in 16 games. His 1895 season back with the Orioles is a hard one to figure out. His ERA was exactly the same as the previous year and the Orioles were again a first place team, But Duke went 10-12 in 25 starts and nine relief appearances. To make matters even stranger, he went 14-5(with a slightly lower ERA) in 1896 as the Orioles took their third straight NL pennant. Duke pitched two more years in the majors, finishing with a 101-100 record over nine seasons.
Bill Day (1867) Pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Right after the Alleghenys gave Duke Esper his last start, they brought in another pitcher from Philadelphia in the person of Bill Day. He had a 1-4 record over parts of two seasons with the Phillies, prior to coming over to the Pirates in exchange for outfielder Billy Sunday in late August. Day made six starts for the Alleghenys and all six resulted in losses, including the 113th loss of the season for Pittsburgh. He almost won his debut on September 2nd, taking a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but a fielding error by right fielder Bill Wilson allowed two runs to score and Day took a 5-4 loss. The last loss of the season was a 10-4 defeat, giving the Alleghenys a major league record for single season losses that stood for nine seasons and has been topped just five times, even with expanded schedules. For Day, his major league career was done at that point, although his pro career was far from over, pitching in the minors for another ten seasons before retiring.
Jolly Roger Rewind: July 28, 2001
In the middle of an otherwise dreadful day-night doubleheader in the Pirates’ worst season in sixteen years, the Bucs managed one of the most remarkable comebacks in franchise history, scoring seven runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Astros 9-8 at PNC Park.
Three Vinny Castilla home runs—Brian Giles robbed him of a fourth blast in the fourth inning—staked Houston to an 8-2 lead entering the bottom of the ninth of the opener. At that juncture, the Bucs not only appeared certain to lose that game, but also stood less than seven hours from a 12-3 second-game rout at the hands of a pitcher who they would acquire in a trade three days later (Tony McKnight), their opening-day pitcher from the following season (Ron Villone), and their closer of nine seasons hence (Octavio Dotel).
Astros’ reliever Michael Jackson took the mound for his second inning of relief and started the inning by retiring Aramis Ramirez and John Vanderwal on fly balls. The visitors hovered one out from victory, with Kevin Young representing the last Bucco hope.
But Young kept the game alive with a double, and Pat Meares followed with a home run to cut the margin to 8-4. Adam Hyzdu batted for Omar Oliveras* and singled, Tike Redman drew a four-pitch walk, and Jack Wilson singled home Hyzdu. Astros’ manager Larry Dierker replaced Jackson with his closer, Billy Wagner.
Wagner would save five games against the Pirates that season, but this would not be one. On a 1-1 count, Jason Kendall, who finished third in the National League that year with twenty hit-by-pitches, drew a hit batsman to load the bases for Brian Giles.
Easily the best hitter in the Pirates’ lineup, Giles entered the game with a 1.001 OPS. Dierker elected to take his chances with the lefthander-against-lefthander matchup, rather than deploy the unusual strategy of intentionally walking Giles with the bases loaded to face Ramirez. Giles took a 98-mile-per-hour fastball for a ball.
Wagner’s second pitch was another fastball, and Giles swung. He lined the ball into the right-field bleachers for a game-winning grand slam, his twenty-fifth home run of the season. The Pirates had become the first major league team in forty-nine years to rally for a victory after trailing by seven runs with two outs in the ninth inning. Plenty of terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad days lay ahead for the 2001 Bucs in their march to 100 losses—they would go 22-38 after this game—but they could at least claim this stunning Saturday afternoon comeback in their scrapbook of memories.
Game One box score and play-by-play
Game Two box score and play-by-play
* Olivares surrendered four runs in two innings of relief to increase his ERA to 7.07 and turn a 4-2 contest into an apparent rout. He wound up the winning pitcher, thanks to the Bucs’ rally.