Revisiting Back-To-Back Pittsburgh Pirates Walk Off Victories in 2015


Right before the 2015 All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates played what would become two of the most memorable regular season games in franchise history

Some of the most exciting games in sports are ones between two of the best teams in the sport. The action is only intensified when these two teams are competing are rivals. This was the case when the Pittsburgh Pirates faced off in a four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals right before the 2015 All-Star break.

The Pittsburgh Pirates entered the third game of the series on July 11th just 4.5 games behind the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central divison, as well as the race for the lead for the best record in baseball. The next two games would go down in the history of PNC Park like the 2013 Wild Card game.

The first game was on July 11th. The Bucs had lost the first game of the 4 game set, but took the second game. With the series split, the Pirates sent the newly minted All-Star, the Batman, A.J. Burnett to take the mound against another veteran ace in John Lackey. The game got off to an interesting start to say the least. The Cardinals struck first, but in the most unusual of ways. In what was clearly a swing and complete miss for strike three by Mark Reynolds, notorious home plate umpire, Vic Carapazza, ruled it a foul tip, extending the plate appearance another pitch. On the exact next pitch, Reynolds launched a 1-2 pitch from Burnett into the left field bleachers, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

Understandably furious, catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Clint Hurdle got their money’s worth, and were ejected. Chris Stewart, the only other catcher on the bench, had to take over for the rest of the game, which would have an impact later on.

After a sacrifice fly by Yadier Molina in the top of the 3rd, the score was 2-0 Cards. Then in the 5th inning, the Cardinals would score in another unconventional way. With runners on the corners, one out, and Jason Heyward at the plate, Heyward hit a chopper to first baseman Pedro Alvarez. Attempting to come home with the ball, Alvarez completely whiffs on snatching the ball. The ball rolls into shallow right field and Matt Carpenter scores on the error. Plus, with Kolten Wong attempting the hit and run, he winds up at third base. Luckily, the Pittsburgh Pirates escaped the inning after a double play grounded into by Yadier Molina.

But the Pirates weren’t done yet. Far from it.

In the bottom of the 5th inning, one of the most unlikely heroes with the bat stepped up to the plate. Facing Lackey, who had held the Bucs scoreless to this point, Burnett hit a deep fly ball into left field. That fly ball turned into a home run, marking Burnett’s 4th career long ball, and his first since 2005. This also rejuvenated a disgruntled and upset PNC Park crowd.

The game would remain 3-1 through the 6th and 7th innings, but the 8th inning is when the Pirates would get their bats going. Andrew McCutchen led the inning off with a walk against relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist. On 0-2 count on Starling Marte, Siegrist attempted a pick off at first base and threw the ball away.

The speedy McCutchen was able to reach second base on the botched attempt. Although Marte would strikeout, rookie sensation Jung-Ho Kang stepped to the plate, and poked an RBI single through the right side of the infield, scoring Cutch. The throw home got past Molina, which moved Kang to second base. The very next batter, Pedro Alvarez, tied the game up, 3-3, after a line drive up the middle scoring Kang.

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Neither the Cardinals nor Pirates were able to score in the 9th inning, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent career minor leaguer Deolis Guerra to the mound to pitch, but things didn’t work out so well. In his first inning of work, Guerra surrendered another solo home run to Reynolds. This gave the Cardinals the lead once again, and put the Pirates in yet another hole to overcome.

The 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates had a lot of fight in them. This is a big reason why the team won 98 games. Against closer Trevor Rosenthal, who owned a 0.67 ERA entering the series, the Pirates overcame what seemed like an impossible task. Kang led the bottom of the 10th in the best way possible. The slugger hit a ball off the Clemente wall, which right fielder Randal Grichuick got a poor read on. After a poor throw into the infield by center fielder Peter Bourjous, Kang ended up at third base. After a groundout to third base by Sean Rodriguez, the catcher who was forced into action because of ejections earlier in the game, Chris Stewart, stepped to the plate with the infield in. Stewart slapped an RBI single through the drawn in infield on a 98 MPH fastball at chest level, tying the game once again.

After the 10th inning, Guerra would settle down, and not let any other Cardinals score in the 11th or 12th innings. However, Reynolds would make his presence known once again. In Guerra’s last inning of work, the slugger drove a 3-1 fastball to the warning track. But utility man Sean Rodriguez, who had taken over in left field made a great leaping catch to take away what would have been extra bases for Reynolds.

But just like the Pirates, the Cardinals still had plenty of fight left in them. Vance Worley came into relieve Guerra, and pitched a scoreless top of the 13th inning, but the top of the 14th did not go as hoped. After Carpenter led off the inning with a walk, he attempted to steal second. Stewart made a low throw that Jordy Mercer was unable to pick and it went into center field. Carpenter wound up at third base with no outs. After Tony Cruz, the Cardinals last bench bat, grounded out to Neil Walker with the infield in, All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta lined a single into left field, giving the Cardinals the lead once again. The game was now 5-4.

But the Bucs still had the bottom of the 14th to work with, and work with it is exactly what they did. Walker led off the inning with a line drive single to center field, and set the table for Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen ended the game, and immortalized himself into Pirates history when he launched a pitch off of Nick Greenwood into the center field ivy to end the game.

The baseball gods did not want the Pittsburgh Pirates to win this one. From botched calls, to awful reads by the Pirates infielders, and errant throws, everything was working against the Pirates in this game. Somehow, by some miracle, the Pirates were able to overcome all of it to win the game on July 11th, 2015 vs the Cardinals in one of the most memorable games since Bill Mazeroski’s walk off in 1960. Ironically, this was the last pitch Greenwood would throw in the MLB. But the Pirates would put on another display that would immortalize the 2015 team in history.

As long time Pirate broadcaster, and former pitcher, Steve Blass said on the radio after McCutchen’s walk off bomb, “how damn proud are you of your Pittsburgh Pirates tonight!?”

The very next day, the Pittsburgh Pirates would display the fight this team had. The game got off to a more normal start. No completely missed calls that led to multiple ejections. Unlike the previous game, the Cardinals put out one of their top prospect pitchers to face the Bucs’ line-up. The 24-year-old lefty Tim Cooney rookie faced off with one of the Pirates’ aces, Francisco Liriano. The Cardinals opened up the scoring when the Cardinals drove in Heyward on a double play.

But the Pirates retaliated in the bottom of the second. After a one out triple by Cervelli, Sean Rodriguez flew out to right fielder Heyward, but not deep enough for Cervelli to run on Heyward’s cannon arm. Cooney then intentionally walked right fielder Gregory Polanco to get to the pitcher.

This choice absolutely backfired in the Cardinals’ faces. On the very first pitch Liriano saw, he roped it into deep right field. It was a bases clearing, long single for the veteran left hander. It was Liriano’s first multi-RBI game of his career.

However, the lead Liriano gave the Bucs didn’t last for long. In the top of the 3rd, with a full count and two outs, Peralta hit a long ball of his own to tie the game at two.

But with one out in the bottom of the 4th, Sean Rodriguez laced a double right around where Liriano hit his 2 run single, putting a man in scoring position. A chopper through the right side of the infield off of Polanco’s bat gave the Bucs the lead once again.

And that’s where the score stayed for the next 3 innings. Liriano finished up his day in the 7th inning, allowing 2 runs on five hits, four walks, and six strikeouts. However, the Cardinals made the top of the 8th very interesting.

Tony Watson, who had been lights out throughout 2015, struggled in the 8th. Watson started out the inning with a hit by pitch on a fastball that rode just a little bit too far inside on second baseman Wong. On the next pitch, Peralta hit a hard hit grounder through the right side of the infield. Now the Cardinals had two runners on, and no outs. The go ahead run was Wong, who is an extremely talented base runner, making the threat of them scoring even greater.

It looked like Watson could have escaped what could have been massive trouble. The left-handed set-up man got Heyward to hit a chopper to shortstop Jordy Mercer, for what could have been a double play. But Mercer misplayed the hop, leading to one of the worst situations a pitcher can be in: late in the game, no outs, bases loaded.

The Bucs finally recorded an out when Molina hit a ground ball to Kang at third base. Kang had to dive for the ball, but bobbled it, so the only out they were able to get was at first base. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had tied the game, and still had two runners in scoring position with one out.

Watson then got the dreaded Reynolds to line out to Walker for the second out, and walked Grichuk to load the bases for the second time in the inning. But Watson, with a little help from Cervelli’s framing ability, was able to get Bourjous to look at strike three. The Pirates had just tight-roped their way out of a bases loaded no out jam, runners in scoring position and one out jam, and bases loaded two out jam, only to let one run score. Very impressive work.

After both teams failed to score in the 9th, the game went to extras once again.

Flamethrower Arquimedes Caminero came into the 10th inning, relieving closer Mark Melancon who pitched a scoreless 9th. Caminero, who up to that point had been one of the Pirates most inconsistent relief pitchers, but showed tons of upside and potential, was in one of the biggest games of his young MLB career. Unfortunately, Caminero couldn’t hold the door closed for another inning. Peralta led off the inning with a soft hit liner over Mercer’s head for a single. Then, on a shallow sinking line drive off of Heyward’s bat, that Starling Marte nearly caught and threw Peralta out at second on, dropped just a few feet in front of the gold glove left fielder.

With the game on the line at this point, Cardinal manager Mike Matheny decided to put in Pete Kozma to run for the slow-footed Peralta. Molina, the slowest player on the Cardinals in 2015, hit a chopper to shortstop. Mercer flipped the ball to Walker for one out, but with Heyward trying to break up the double play, Walker was not able to get an accurate, but weak throw to first baseman Rodriguez. The slowed throw gave Molina the extra step he needed to reach first safely.

Caminero then hit Reynolds in the arm with a 98 MPH fastball. The Pirates now found themselves in a very familiar situation: bases loaded, one out. With Grichuk up at the plate, the rookie drove the gap for a two-run triple. Luckily, the Bucs were able to cut down Reynolds trying to score to keep it from a bases clearing triple. But the Cardinals nearly scored a third run. On the first pitch Bourjos saw, he lined it up the middle for what looked to be an RBI single. But Walker prevented that from happening with a nice diving catch to end the inning. However, it appeared, the damage had been done.

And here they were: the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals in extra innings. The Cardinals clinging to a two-run lead, and the Pirates stepping to the plate against Rosenthal. But if the Cardinals wanted to win this one, they had to fight for it.

With Mercer leading off the inning, the shortstop started things off with a bloop single to left field. Walker then stepped to the plate, and nearly did what McCutchen did a night before. Walker drove the ball to deep center field, but the ball died on the warning track, coming just a few feet short of tying the game. McCutchen then stepped to the plate, and advanced Mercer to second on a chopper to third baseman Matt Carpenter. Things were looking bleak for the Pirates. They had two outs and one runner on base. But we know this team had much more fight left in them. On a 1-0 count, Starling Marte lined a ball to right field, scoring Mercer.

Things started to get much more interesting now.

The Pirates had the tying run on base, and Kang at the plate. Kang lined a ball into center field for a single, and moving the tying run into scoring position. Cervelli, who had a .298 batting average when the game was late and close in 2015, hit a ground ball down the right field line, tying the game, and leaving Rosenthal with his second straight blown save. Kang was able to make it to third base, putting the winning run just 90 feet away.

Now it was Travis Ishikawa up to bat. Clearly shook at this point, Rosenthal walked the .719 OPS batter on four pitches. Now, the bases were loaded for Polanco. Anything that didn’t result in an out ended the game. On the first pitch Polanco saw, he lined it into right field, giving the Pirates the win, and second straight walk off in what has been two of the most roller-coaster like games in Pirates history.

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The two walk off wins against the St. Louis Cardinals right before the All-Star game will go down in history as some of the best regular season games in Pittsburgh Pirates history. So far, it’s up there as two of the best games in PNC Park history, and is easily the highlight of the Pirates in the past five seasons.