Finding some Pirates' treasures

By Ryan S. Pugh

CLARION NEWS Sports

Editor

Last week when Major League Baseball canceled Spring Training and put the 2020 season on hold due to the COVID-19 or novel coronavirus, the league's website put out a list of the best baseball games to stream for every team in the league.

The reason Major League Baseball did this is to quell the baseball fan's thirst to watch a baseball game. It will likely be a long time until we see live baseball.

MLB.com chose the Game Seven of the 1971 World Series as the best game for Pirates' fans to watch. I was surprised the website didn't choose Game 7 of the 1960 World Series as the ultimate Pirates' fans re-watch.

I have watched both games on replays over the years. I even thought about "live tweeting" the 1960 game, but what am I, a deranged lunatic?

Those are great Pirates games but I didn't see them live because I wasn't alive. The earliest memory I have of Pittsburgh winning the title came in 1979 as I watched Willie Stargell hit a home run in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series on my grandma's console television.

My parents took me to my first Pirates game the next season. It was a game against the Mets at Three Rivers Stadium. It was Cap Day and we had seats in the first row of the Club Level at Three Rivers Stadium. My mom liked the seats because she could put her feet up. The two things I learned that day is drunk people are annoying and Italian Ice is delicious.

My mom had a chance to catch a foul ball and it looked like it was coming right to her. She stuck her glove over the railing to catch the ball (we took our gloves that day, you got a problem with that?) but the ball just eluded Mom's glove and a drunken moron below us caught it. He was singing, dancing, just plain acting a fool. Later on in the game, I was given an Italian Ice and digging the sweet treat out of the little cup kept me busy for the better part of three innings.

The most disappointing part of the day was Willie Stargell didn't play. Willie was my favorite player but he was getting old and his injuries were piling up.

There have been some memorable Pirates games in my lifetime for good and for bad. Below is a list of the ten most memorable in my lifetime.

10. Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, July 21, 1997

This was right in the middle of the Pirates' "Freak Show" season of 1997 when Pittsburgh challenged for a division title with a team which had a payroll smaller than Albert Belle's contract. I listened to this game on the radio and was in absolute shock when Kevin Polcovich cranked a home run off of the Phillies' Curt Shilling in the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie. The Pirates would hold on to win the game 3-2. Polcovich played just two years in the big leagues and finished his career with a .234 average and four home runs. But for one day, he was Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Roy Hobbs all rolled into one.

9. Milwaukee at Pittsburgh, April 22, 2010

Woof. Milwaukee 20, Pittsburgh, nothing. There are just no words to describe how demoralizing this loss was. I don't remember specific details of the game. I know I didn't watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio. I just remember seeing the score popup on the ESPN ticker and shake my head in disgust and a little bit of wonder.

8. Boston at Pittsburgh, June 5, 2003

It was "Turn Back the Clock" night at PNC Park when the Red Sox came to town in 2003. The Pirates' hosted the special night because 2003 was the 100th anniversary of the 1903 World Series between the teams. What was great about "Turn Back the Clock" night was there was no hot dog toss, no pick your favorite song, none of the other ancillary garbage which has worked its way into the game these days. It was just about the baseball and I loved it.

7. Pittsburgh at St. Louis, September 30, 1990

I know for a fact I didn't watch this game on TV because it was only on cable (we didn't get have cable at the time) and it was on a NFL Sunday (interesting fact about the 1990-1992 Pirates; the team clinched each of its three division titles on a Sunday.) I listened to the game on my little Walkman while watching the football game on Channel 11. It was memorable because the Pirates were the number one topic of conversation throughout the summer and fall of 1990. At school, we talked about the Pirates "magic number" every day until they finally clinched.

6. Atlanta at Pittsburgh, October 11, 1992, Game 5 National League Championship Series

I have no first-hand memory of this game. I know I didn't watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio because I was at a Buffalo Sabers game with a bunch of other college students. After the way the Pirates had lost in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series one night earlier, I didn't think there was any way the Pirates could beat Atlanta especially with Bob Walk tapped for the start. So you can imagine my shock when I looked at the scoreboard at the Aud (the Buffalo Sabres home rink in 1992) and saw the final; Pittsburgh 7, Atlanta 1. Walk tossed a three-hit complete game and held off the Braves' celebration for one night at least.

5. St. Louis at Pittsburgh, October 7, 2013, Game 4, National League Division Series

People forget how close the Pirates were to advancing to the 2013 National League Championship Series. Pittsburgh had the Cardinals on the ropes winning games two and three of the best-of-five series. But then came Michael Wacha. Like a version of Steve Avery 2.0, Wacha came in and befuddled Pittsburgh's lineup for seven-and-a-third innings. The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez cranked a solo homer off of Wacha in the bottom of the eighth but it would be the Pirates only run.

4. Milwaukee at Pittsburgh, July 4, 1999

The Pirates were 40-39 when they hosted the Brewers in the final game of a three-game series on Independence Day 1999. It looked like Pittsburgh might edge its way into the discussion for the Wild Card or maybe even the division title race. Then Pirates' catcher Jason Kendall's ankle exploded on a play at first base and Pittsburgh's promising season was a distant memory. Sorry, Pittsburgh wasn't winning a division with Keith Osik as its everyday starting catcher.

3. Houston at Pittsburgh, July 12, 1997

The Pirates' had won seven games in a row when division-leading Houston came to town for a three-game set in July of 1997. The Astros trounced the Pirates by a combined 17 runs in back-to-back shutouts. It looked like Pittsburgh's magical season was just a mirage but then journeyman pitcher Francisco Cordova no hit the Astros for nine innings (apparently Houston couldn't find any trash cans in the Three Rivers Stadium concourse). Pittsburgh reliever Ricardo Rincon came in a pitched a hitless top of the tenth and the Pirates Mark Smith smashed a three-run homer in the bottom of the tenth. I still remember Pirates' broadcater Lanny Frattare's call on Smith's home run. "No hitter, home run. You got it all!"

2. Pittsburgh at Atlanta, October 14, 1992, Game 7 National League Championship Series

If you are squeamish, avert your eyes. As a Pittsburgh sports fan, this was my most heartbreaking loss. The reason it was so heartbreaking was that I knew the Pirates' teams I had lived and died with for three years were done. Outfielder Barry Bonds and ace starting pitcher Doug Drabek both had one foot out the door. So when Sid Bream lumbered his way home and barely beat Mike LaValliere's tag at the plate, I knew a giant chunk of my adolescence was over.

1. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, October 1, 2013, National League Wild Card game

"Cue-to, Cue-to, Cue-to." Professional athletes adamantly deny that fans affect their play but I know on that October night in 2013, the sing-song heckling of Cincinnati starting pitcher Johnny Cueto certainly seemed to affect the goings on of the play on the field. The Pirates and their fans had been a national joke for over 20 years but it seemed like on that night in front of a national television audience, that they weren't going to take it anymore. When Cueto dropped the ball as he readied to pitch to Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin, it felt like the fans had were the tenth player. When Martin took Cueto deep on the very next pitch, it felt like vindication, in a way.