Recapping the Bucs' past 10 home openers

April 2nd, 2020

PITTSBURGH – Thursday was supposed to be a special day for Derek Shelton. He was going to walk out of the home dugout, stand on the third-base line with his players and coaches for the national anthem then make his way back into the dugout and manage his first game at PNC Park.

Instead of looking out at the Pittsburgh skyline and trying to beat the Reds, Shelton spent Thursday at home in Florida, waiting for baseball to return.

“I was really looking forward to [the home opener],” Shelton said Wednesday on KDKA-FM. “I’ve said it many times, and I think I said it the day I was hired: Walking out on the field at PNC Park, I don’t think there’s a more beautiful place in baseball.”

With no live baseball, let’s take a look back at the last decade of Pirates home openers – the good, the bad and the foretelling in front of packed houses at PNC Park.

Date: April 5, 2010
Opponent: Los Angeles Dodgers
Result: 11-5, Pirates

The Pirates went on to lose 105 games in 2010, but they at least began the decade on a high note. The lineup included a 23-year-old Andrew McCutchen in center field, flanked by Lastings Milledge in left and Garrett Jones in right. Starting pitcher Zach Duke, batting eighth ahead of shortstop Ronny Cedeno, held the Dodgers to two runs over five innings.

Jones led the offensive attack, going deep twice against Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla with one of the homers bouncing into the Allegheny River. Catcher Ryan Doumit also doubled and homered as he drove in three runs. Pinch-hitter Ryan Church doubled in three runs in the fifth inning.

Date: April 7, 2011
Opponent: Colorado Rockies
Result: 7-1, Rockies

The Pirates went 4-2 on their season-opening trip through Chicago and St. Louis before dropping manager Clint Hurdle’s first home game against Colorado, the club he led to the World Series in 2007. In Hurdle’s first year, the Pirates hung around for much of the summer before collapsing in the second half.

Starter Paul Maholm gave up five runs (three earned) over 5 2/3 innings. But Colorado starter Esmil Rogers shut down the Bucs' lineup, allowing one run over 7 1/3 innings, and Troy Tulowitzki sparked the Rockies' lineup by going 2-for-3 with a homer.

Date: April 5, 2012
Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies
Result: 1-0, Phillies

This was the most recent time the Pirates were shut out on Opening Day, and it makes sense when you consider their opponent: Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. As Pirates leadoff man Alex Presley told reporters afterward, “Nobody solves Roy Halladay.”

Halladay allowed two hits in eight innings, and the only drama was whether he’d pitch a shutout in his first start of the season. (He didn’t. Jonathan Papelbon finished the game.)

Pirates starter Erik Bedard allowed only one run over seven innings. Pittsburgh won the next two games and once again flirted with contention deep into the summer, ending July with a 59-44 record. But the Pirates finished 20-39 to guarantee their 20th straight losing season.

Date: April 1, 2013
Opponent: Chicago Cubs
Result: 3-1, Cubs

The Pirates’ long-awaited return to the postseason began with a whimper, as Jeff Samardzija worked eight scoreless innings with nine strikeouts for a Cubs team that would lose 96 games. A.J. Burnett, making his first Opening Day start, gave up three runs but struck out 10 over 5 2/3 innings -- and he memorably had the rosin bag explode on him in the fifth inning.

One look at the lineup showed that better days were ahead, though. Starling Marte hit leadoff ahead of Jones and McCutchen, with Pedro Alvarez (on his way to 36 homers and 100 RBIs) batting cleanup. Neil Walker started at second with Russell Martin and Clint Barmes rounding out the order. Other than Jones, they were all in the starting lineup for Pittsburgh’s National League Wild Card Game victory on Oct. 1, 2013.

Date: March 31, 2014
Opponent: Chicago Cubs
Result: 1-0, Pirates (10 innings)

This was the Pirates’ most recent Opening Day shutout and walk-off victory. Francisco Liriano led the way with 10 strikeouts over six innings, and the “Shark Tank” bullpen took over from there. There were two notable uses of MLB’s recently expanded instant replay system in the opener, with both going in the Pirates’ favor.

And Walker, the “Pittsburgh Kid,” ended it with a homer off pitcher Carlos Villanueva.

"This one feels pretty special," Walker told reporters after the game. "This is a special day for this team, this organization. We've come a long way."

Date: April 13, 2015
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Result: 5-4, Pirates

Josh Harrison, Alvarez and Corey Hart homered for the Pirates in front of the largest home opener crowd in PNC Park’s history (39,933). Gerrit Cole also set the tone for an outstanding campaign, striking out eight as he held the Tigers’ loaded lineup to one run over six innings.

Carrying a two-run lead into the seventh, Cole exited after loading the bases with no outs. In came groundball specialist Jared Hughes, who induced a double play and a pop out to escape with the lead intact.

Those Pirates thrived at home all year, going 53-28 at PNC Park on their way to a 98-win season and a second straight loss in the NL Wild Card Game.

Date: April 3, 2016
Opponent: St. Louis Cardinals
Result: 4-1, Pirates

The Pirates and Cardinals, MLB’s two winningest teams over the previous three years, were selected to play the first game of the 2016 season. Francisco Liriano delivered a performance worthy of the stage, again tying the Opening Day franchise record with 10 strikeouts over six scoreless innings and driving in the first run of the entire season.

It was 39 degrees at first pitch, but it was no matter, as this ultimately disappointing campaign -- the Pirates’ three-year postseason streak ended with a 78-83 record -- began with great promise.

Date: April 7, 2017
Opponent: Atlanta Braves
Result: 5-4, Pirates

Another frigid day and another hot start for the Pirates at home. Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings, seemingly unbothered by the snow falling around him as he delivered his first pitch of the season.

Marte, starting in center field, went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. McCutchen, who shifted over to right field at the start of the season, went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Freese and Francisco Cervelli hit back-to-back homers in the fifth, and Tony Watson locked down the save.

The 2017 Pirates played respectably at home all season, finishing 44-37, but they struggled to a 31-50 record on the road and missed the postseason for a second straight year.

Date: April 2, 2018
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Result: 5-4, Pirates

After playing a doubleheader to finish their season-opening series in Detroit, the Pirates’ flight landed about 12 hours before Jameson Taillon’s first pitch. Beginning an excellent individual season that helped the Bucs win 82 games, Taillon held the Twins to two runs while striking out nine over 5 1/3 innings.

All the Pirates' offense came in the first inning, most of it on one swing from Colin Moran. Playing his first home game at PNC Park, Moran launched a grand slam out to right field. According to STATS LLC, Moran joined Ralph Kiner (1949) and Roberto Clemente ('62) as the third Pirate to hit a grand slam in the team’s home opener.

"Just heard the crowd go crazy," the stoic infielder said, unsurprisingly unemotional about the accomplishment and the curtain call he received as a result. "Glad we got four runs. It was exciting."

Date: April 1, 2019
Opponent: St. Louis Cardinals
Result: 6-5, Cardinals (11 innings)

This was a long one -- 11 innings and nearly five hours -- and it ended in disappointing fashion for the Pirates. There were two highlights in their first home-opener defeat since 2013: Moran (2-for-3, homer, three RBIs) continuing to be Mr. Home Opener, and Chris Archer striking out eight over five scoreless innings.

“I feel like we should have won that game, but that’s baseball,” Archer said afterward. “Stuff like this is going to happen.”

What happened: The bullpen coughed up a four-run lead, and the Cardinals scored the winning run on a passed ball, a Nick Kingham pitch glancing off Cervelli’s glove and bouncing away. This would turn out to be the final home opener managed by Hurdle and overseen by GM Neal Huntington, as they were let go after the Bucs’ 93-loss season.