Since PNC Park's opening in early 2001, the Pirates have enjoyed some incredible moments, ranging from the jaw-dropping to the heartwarming to the outright infuriating.
Sure, the club's gone 1,404-1,670 (.457) in the 19 seasons played at PNC Park, but to focus solely on the wins and losses misses some truly memorable and historic moments.
We're living in pandemic times, Lunatics. The 2020 MLB season is very much up in the air. The last time we saw the Pirates on the diamond, they concluded a 69-93 season.
We could use some optimism. That's what I'm getting at here. Let's have some fun and relive the five greatest moments in PNC Park's history. I bet you can guess No. 1. But I bet you can't guess each of the other four.
5. PNC Park opens
What is PNC Park's opening day?
It's a real question, and it's up for debate. The Pirates played a pair of exhibition games against the Mets, losing 4-3 in the first action at the newly constructed stadium March 31, 2001.
Those games, however, were meaningless in an actual baseball sense.
For me, you gotta fast-forward a week and change to April 9, 2001, when the Pirates, at 3-3, made their 2001 home opener and thus welcomed the baseball world to the glory of PNC Park in official, regular-season action.
Unveiling this view is special:
PNC Park's opening day was grand and moving ... but not for the reasons one might expect.
The team got crushed, 8-2, by the Reds, but the result was completely overshadowed by the death of Pirates legend and Hall of Famer Willie Stargell. As part of the park's opening-day ceremonies leading up to that April 9 game, the team unveiled a statue of Stargell along Federal Street, honoring the 1979 World Series MVP in fitting, larger-than-life metal and concrete on April 7.
Less than 48 hours later, Stargell passed away in Wilmington, N.C., where he had been hospitalized at New Hanover Regional Medical Center following a Feb. 23 gallbladder surgery.
The team honored Stargell with a four-minute video presentation prior to the game, setting the stage for an emotional day and a powerful connection between PNC Park and the team's past legends.
The rest of this list doesn't happen without this entry. It all started here.
4. Giles completes comeback
Let's just start this one with a video:
A walk-off grand slam is special 100 percent of the time. But a walk-off grand slam off seven-time All-Star Billy Wagner (who hadn't blown a save in three months and who owns the best strikeouts-per-nine rate, 11.9, in Major League Baseball history) is even sweeter.
That's still not enough for Brian Giles, though. There's a reason this one makes the list. The Pirates entered the ninth down 8-2. Aramis Ramirez and John Vander Wal popped out quickly, putting two outs on the board and seemingly sealing the game.
Then Pat Meares homered off Michael Jackson, adequately setting up the Thriller to come.
Adam Hyzdu singled. Jackson walked Tike Redman. Jack Wilson singled off Jackson, bringing Hyzdu home.
Wagner entered the game and promptly hit Jason Kendall with a pitch. That loaded the bases and ... yeah. Giles happened.
My goodness. That blast capped off the virtually impossible and sent fans into a frenzy, standing to this day as one of the great moments in PNC Park's history.
Oh, and this was the first game of a doubleheader. Game 2?
A 12-3 loss.
C'mon, it just had to come back to earth, right?
3. Cardinals double-feature
The Pirates went 98-64 in 2015, the team's best record since PNC Park opened. While that season ended with a whimper — a 4-0 loss to the Cubs and Jake Arrieta in the National League Wild Card Game — it contained its fair share of highlights and replay-worthy moments.
None comes close to this one.
The Cardinals entered PNC Park at 55-30, leading the NL Central. The Pirates were hunting, though, sitting at 50-34 and looking to prove they could compete with the big boys.
The team split the first two games in the four-game series, the Cardinals taking Game 1, 4-1, then the Pirates bouncing back to win Game 2, 5-2. That set the stage for all this in Game 3. The Pirates trailed, 3-1, heading into the bottom of the eighth. Jung Ho Kang scored Andrew McCutchen on a single. Pedro Alvarez scored Kang in the next at-bat.
Tie game, and that score held until the top of the 10th, when the Cardinals' Mark Reynolds rang up Deolis Guerra for a solo shot to give his team the 4-3 lead. Kang tripled in the bottom of the inning, though, and Chris Stewart brought him home with a single. Tie game. Again.
Fourteenth inning, Vance Worley walks Matt Carpenter. Carpenter steals and takes third on an errant throw. Jhonny Peralta to the plate. Single, Carpenter scores. The Cardinals are up, 5-4, with Neil Walker and McCutchen leading off the bottom of the inning.
Walker singles. McCutchen does this:
That dude could play, huh?
And not to toss Game 4 — another extra-innings, comeback victory — to the side, but this one was just better. The 2013 NL MVP came up clutch when it mattered most, and fans lost their minds. All due credit to the team's three-run 10th inning a day later to cap a 6-5 win, but that swift swing of McCutchen's bat tops it when examining the best moments in the park's history.
2. They fired everyone
I mean, this has to be included.
On Sept. 13, 2007, the Pirates introduced Frank Coonelly as the team's president. Twelve days later, Neal Huntington was named general manager, and he quickly appointed Kyle Stark as assistant GM. On Nov. 15, 2010, Clint Hurdle entered the fold as the team's manager.
By November of 2019, following that 69-93 season and an especially ugly second-half-of-season collapse, they were all gone.
All of 'em.
Bob Nutting, after years of fans hoping and praying — and our own Dejan Kovacevic writing just a little bit about the subject, you might recall — finally did it. He gave the Pirates the makeover they needed, paving the way for Travis Williams to begin his run as team president, Ben Cherington to take over as GM, Steve Sanders to fill in for Stark as assistant GM and Derek Shelton to replace Hurdle as manager.
Will the moves set the team on a new, winning path? That remains to be seen. But the old regime wore out its welcome, and this move just had to happen. In time, this could prove one of Nutting's finest decisions and one of the most glorious moments in PNC Park's history. Or it could crash and burn and mark just another stop on the bus ride toward perpetual mediocrity.
Either way, it's significant. Hugely, hugely significant.
I mean. Ob-vi-ous-ly.
In the team's first playoffs appearance since 1992, Russell Martin did that. No, the city of Pittsburgh did that. Reds starter Johnny Cueto had just allowed a home run to Marlon Byrd in the first at-bat of the inning. He bounced back, getting Alvarez to line out at the next at-bat, but the crowd was feeling it. These fans were starved of playoff baseball for 20 years, and they were ready to eat.
So they teased. They taunted. They shook Cueto.
The Pirates, of course, went on to win, 6-2, but that victory, over time, has become distilled down to one moment:
The greatest moment in PNC Park history.
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