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:
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Phillips isn’t a better player than these guys all around. But IMO Darwin Barney is a better defensive 2B than Phillips and Matt Carpenter is a better offensive 2B. And they’re in his division!
Barney very much deserved the Gold Glove last season.
A few personal views:
1. I really thought the shot Byrd hit to Cozart should have been a hit. It was hit hard. He got a short hop with topspin – a very tough play for anyone.
2. Living in Chicago I got to see a lot of Sean Marshall when he was with the Cubs. He has always thrown mostly curves. It is a big looping curve which he has always had trouble throwing for strikes. His numbers were better this season. I wonder if his control improved or he was getting more batters to chase pitches.
3. B. Phillips. Never liked the guy. Still don’t. But I like the fact that he manned up after the defeat. I don’t know if “choked” is the proper term, but he admitted the Reds didn’t play well enough.
4. No Tim McCarver, Brandon Phillips is not the best defensive 2B in major league history. According to Baseball America, Bill Mazeroski was not only the best defensive 2B in ML history, he was the best defensive player at any position ever. Though I would probably cast my vote for Clemente. (Glad we didn’t have to listen to McCarver’s droning last night).
5. Finally, congratulations to the Pirates fans who have suffered for way too long.
How’scome you weren’t buyin’ me an Old Style at last week’s series, hmm?
I attended the Wednesday afternoon game and actually drank my first Old Style in probably 15 years. If I had known you were there, I still had $8 left in my pocket, so I could have bought you one. It was the first major league game for my 4-yr-old son, and he had had enough after the 6th inning.
Absolutely, no way on your #1 . This is MLB, not Pee Wee. If a ball is hit directly at a major league shortstop, he is and should be expected to make a play on it. If he doesn’t, it should be an error.
I’ll never understand what Tim McCarver based that statement on. I almost spit out my coffee when he said that. What you say about Maz is absolutely true and for good measure, Phillips is not as good defensively as even Ryne Sandberg or joe morgan.
Or Jose Lind.