PITTSBURGH -- The past year resulted in disappointment for the Pirates, from the early absences that hamstrung their lineup to the 75-87 record that again left them searching for answers this offseason.But 2017 was not without its bright spots for the Bucs. Despite what the results suggest, the Pirates were
PITTSBURGH -- The past year resulted in disappointment for the Pirates, from the early absences that hamstrung their lineup to the 75-87 record that again left them searching for answers this offseason.
But 2017 was not without its bright spots for the Bucs. Despite what the results suggest, the Pirates were rarely uninspiring. They were responsible for new records and historical moments, dramatic returns and unexpected exits, and perhaps the finest offensive game played in the career of their franchise player, Andrew McCutchen.
For a team that finished fourth in the National League Central and spent only two days with a winning record, you'll find a surprising number of personal achievements. Among those unlisted below: Dovydas Neverauskas becoming the first Lithuanian in Major League history, Mpho' Ngoepe making MLB history as its first African-born player, Ivan Nova's award-winning April, McCutchen's Player of the Month turnaround in June, a 10-run inning at Wrigley Field, Gerrit Cole's "Little League" victory over the Reds and any number of knee-buckling, mind-boggling pitch sequences brought to you by Felipe Rivero.
Before moving on to 2018, let's look back at the Pirates' top five moments of 2017.
Held back by injuries in the Minors, Jameson Taillon finally established himself in the Majors in 2016. But on May 8, a month into a strong start, came the crushing diagnosis of testicular cancer. It was only a temporary setback, however. Taillon returned to the mound at PNC Park on June 12, exactly five weeks after undergoing surgery, and shut down the Rockies with five scoreless innings and five strikeouts in a 7-2 win. He didn't miss another scheduled start and remains in good health heading into 2018.
For eight innings on Aug. 23, Dodgers lefty Rich Hill was perfect. For nine innings, he had held the Pirates hitless. But Josh Harrison led off the 10th with a home run that landed just over the left-field wall, sending the Bucs to an improbable 1-0 win. The effort was made possible in part by Trevor Williams' eight gritty innings, but Harrison was the hero -- and the first player in MLB history to break up a no-hitter in extra innings with a walk-off homer.
Welcome back, Serpico
Sean Rodriguez had 72 hours to report to Pittsburgh after the Braves traded him back to the Pirates on Aug. 5. He had no intention of waiting that long. Rodriguez arrived at PNC Park the next day and entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. He grounded out in his first at-bat. In his second, he ripped a 12th-inning walk-off homer to left field that ended the Bucs' 5-4 victory over the Padres with an only-in-baseball moment best encapsulated by broadcaster Greg Brown's incredulous call: "There's no way he's done this!"
On Aug. 20, the Pirates took part in the inaugural MLB Little League Classic and beat the Cardinals, 6-3. It was a Major League game at a Minor League park, historic Bowman Field, before a crowd of Little League players and families. The game was highlighted by rookie Josh Bell's performance, including his home run into the parking lot, as well as the Players Weekend jerseys and the Little League-style handshake line after the final out. But everyone involved will best remember that morning and afternoon spent hanging out at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
A big one off the bucket list
The Pirates were long out of the postseason picture by Sept. 26, but McCutchen still had something to play for. He'd made it clear for years that a grand slam and a home run-robbing catch remained on his baseball bucket list. He got the first one out of the way in the second inning, clearing the bases with a long-awaited shot to right-center. (When he stepped on home plate, he shouted, "Finally!") It was only the beginning of his electric night. McCutchen's 4-for-4, two-homer performance concluded after six innings with a career-high eight RBIs and a couple of curtain calls.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.