Pittsburgh Pirates Rewind: Polanco Saves Wild Opening Day in Detroit


With the 2020 MLB regular season on hold, it’s time to look back on some of the biggest Pittsburgh Pirates moments over the past decade. We’ll rewind to 2018 Opening-Day and dive into the matchup of the Detroit Tigers (0-0) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (0-0).

In a lot of ways, the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates were far superior to their next-year counterparts. While the team still lacked major power, the pitching staff was on the right path. However, Opening-Day, the Pirates would look nothing like this.

It all began the day before on Thursday, March 29th. If you don’t remember, that was actually Opening-Day but got delayed due to inclement weather conditions. The game would then be picked up on Friday, March 30th at 1:10 pm, EST., and thus began the wildest contest of any of the Pirates’ past 19 Opening-Day games.

Taking the mound for the Detroit Tigers that day was veteran pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, who made 29 starts in 2017 to the tune of a 6.08 ERA. Zimmerman gave up a lead-off double to DH Adam Frazier, before striking out Josh Harrison and getting Josh Bell to end the inning with a weak pop-fly. He would get through the second without much fuss, as well.

For the Pirates, it was Ivan Nova taking the hill, after posting a 4.14 ERA in 31 starts a season ago. Nova would quickly work the bases full after two hits, including an infield single, and a walk. He would then strike out the next two batters, helping him to leave the inning with the bases loaded and no damage done.

In the second, left fielder Mikie Mahtook pulled a double just past the glove of third baseman Colin Moran down the third-base line. Following suit, Jose Iglesias and Dixon Machado would do that very same thing back-to-back to make the game 2-0 in favor of Detroit. Machado would end the inning on second base, leaving the score as is.

In the third inning, Zimmerman dominated the tale-end of the lineup for three straight Ks to cover the frame. For Nova, he would have a bounce-back inning, letting up just one base-runner due to a Moran error.

In the fourth, Gregory Polanco found his way on base after a pulled ground-ball that just made it past the second-baseman Machado. Bell followed up with a base knock to right field, then Corey Dickerson singled in Polanco with a line drive to center. Starling Marte beat-out an infield hit that would subsequently be over-turned y replay-review before Francisco Cervelli doubled to deep center to put the Pirates up 3-2.

The Tigers failed to respond in the fourth inning. Nova struck-out Iglesias before giving up a long fly ball that was tracked down by Marte to end the inning without a whimper. In the fifth, Jeimer Candelario, Miguel Cabrera, and Nick Castellanos would all get on base to lead-off the inning; however, that would be all that would happen, as a 1-out 4-6-3 double-play would end the inning. That would be the end for from Nova, who tossed 5 innings while allowing 2 runs.

In the fifth inning, Zimmerman was able to bounce back with a 1-2-3 inning, tallying Frazier with a second strike-out. In the sixth, Polanco walked, then took second and third on a wild throw from catcher James McCann. Bell would then single Polanco in to make the score 4-2. A strike-out, throw-out double-play would end the rally, however.

For the Pirates in the sixth inning, Droydas Neverauskus would take the mound in relief of Nova, who went 5 innings only giving up 2 runs. Neverauskus dealt through the inning without much trouble. The seventh for Detroit was much the same, Warwick Saupold would come out in relief of Zimmerman, who went six innings giving up 4 runs, and get through the inning quietly.

In the seventh inning for the Pirates, Michael Feliz took the mound in his first inning of work on the season. Leonys Martin would quickly jump on Feliz, cracking a lead-off double over the head of Polanco in right-field. Candelario walked and Cabrera doubled down the right-field line to tie up the game at 4 apiece. Castellanos would double in Cabrera to take the lead.

That would bring in Edgar Santana. Santana would let in Feliz’s only remaining base-runner on an error Bell. He would then get the last three-outs to limit the bleeding at 6-4. The Pirates would get this lead back in the eighth on a Polanco double and Bell sac-fly, after Frazier and Harrison both got on base with no outs. Once again we’d have a brand-new ballgame.

If this game hasn’t seemed wild enough, George Kontos would come out in the eighth inning for the Pirates and plunk the home-plate umpire in the head with a wild fastball. That would force the home-umpire out of the game with concussion-like symptoms. Kontos would go on to keep the game tied for the time-being with a 1-2-3 inning.

In the ninth inning, Marte jumped on reliever Shane Greene with a lead-off triple down the right-field line. He would come in to take the lead on a Cervelli single to center. Cervelli would then score on a wild pitch after a Jordy Mercer single to right, making the score 8-6.

The onslaught wouldn’t end there, as a walk to Harrison and a catcher interference call on McCann loaded the bases. Machado would then commit a horrible mistake by attempting to throw the ball with his glove, sailing it over the first-baseman’s head. This would score 2 runs and make the game 10-6.

The Tigers weren’t done yet, however. After Castellanos and Jacoby Jones, who came in for Victor Martinez as a pinch-runner earlier, walked, McCann lined a double in the gap to cut the lead to 2. Machado would go on to double with 2-outs to even the score at 10-10 and send the game to extra innings.

The wildness would continue in extras. Castellanos reached first after beating out an inning-ending double play, then went to second on a wild pitch. Jones would then bring him around the bases to score the walk-off run.

Except the call was overturned:

And as you may recall from that cold day, Polanco would step up to the plate in the thirteenth with two runners on after singles by Frazier and Harrison. On a 3-0 Count, Polanco saw a fastball high and inside, turned on it, and crushed it out to right to make the game 13-10, its final score:

“How about a cup of coffee on a cold opening-day in Detroit”. What a game! The Pittsburgh Pirates would close out the ball-game this time on the back of Steven Brault, who tossed 3 scoreless extra frames for his first win of the year. Just like that the wildness for the day, all the reviewing, scoring, and umpire replacements, would end after 5 hours and 27 minutes (still 2-hours shorter than Game 3 of the 2018 World Series). Find the condensed version of this wild game here.

Next. Pittsburgh Pirates Rewind: Josh Harrison Knocks off Dodgers in Extras. dark

As we wait for baseball to come back, it is important to reflect on moments like these. The last few Pittsburgh Pirates teams haven’t been the most successful, but there are still many great baseball moments that can be found in these years. After all, baseball is still baseball.