PITTSBURGH -- This past decade saw the Pirates’ streak of losing seasons finally end, postseason baseball’s triumphant return to Pittsburgh and good days that didn’t last nearly long enough.
The long-awaited postseason run yielded only one victory in the Wild Card Game, and the newly begun streak of winning seasons lasted only three years. We might always wonder what might have been for the Pirates in the 2010s if not for Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta.
But there were still many days and nights at the ballpark to remember over the last 10 years, especially from 2013-15. Here are the Pirates’ top 10 games of the decade.
1) 2013 National League Wild Card Game
Date: Oct. 1, 2013
Does this game really need an explanation? The Pirates’ euphoric, cathartic 6-2 win over the Reds in front of a sold-out, black-clad crowd at PNC Park was everything that Pittsburgh had waited 20 years for. There are plenty of thrilling games and incredible achievements on this list, but nothing compares to this night and what it meant at the time.
Oh, and Johnny Cueto dropped the ball, as you might recall. What a night.
2) Back to the postseason
Date: Sept. 23, 2013
Before the Wild Card Game came this critical night at Wrigley Field. Starling Marte hit a tiebreaking homer in the ninth and, fittingly, Russell Martin tagged out a runner at home plate to finish a 2-1 win that clinched the Pirates’ first trip to the postseason since 1992. For the first time in 21 years, the Pirates popped champagne in the clubhouse.
3) The walk-off statements
Date: July 11-12, 2015
This was the emotional high point of the Pirates’ 98-win season, tied for the third-highest regular-season win total in franchise history. Playing a pair of primetime, nationally televised games against the division-leading Cardinals at PNC Park, the Bucs engineered two dramatic, 6-5 walk-off victories that served as a statement heading into the All-Star break: This team was the real deal.
Who can forget Andrew McCutchen, hands on his hips, strolling toward his teammates at home plate after homering in the 14th inning on July 11? (“You can raise the Jolly Roger and call it maybe the best, all-time, in Pittsburgh!” broadcaster Greg Brown exulted. “What a game!”) Or Gregory Polanco lining a walk-off single to right in the 10th inning on July 12? (As Brown reveled, “They’ve done it again! The place is a mob scene!”)
4) The end of the streak
Date: Sept. 9, 2013
This was it, the monkey off their backs: Win No. 82. Gerrit Cole pitched seven dominant innings, Pedro Álvarez doubled in the only run, then Tony Watson and Mark Melancon sealed the Pirates’ 1-0 win over the Rangers in Arlington. The Pirates’ run of 20 straight non-winning seasons, the longest losing streak in North American professional sports history, was finally over.
5) One win away
Date: Oct. 6, 2013
This was the day that the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 5-3, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series to move within a win of the NL Championship Series. It was also a heck of a game, tied 3-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth. The Cardinals brought in left-hander Kevin Siegrist, who held lefties to a .118 average that season, to face Pedro Álvarez with two on and one out. Then Álvarez, who hit just .180 with a .537 OPS against lefties that season, knocked a go-ahead single to right before Russell Martin tacked on another run and Jason Grilli picked up the save.
6) Cole Train leaves the station
Date: June 11, 2013
This was an event. Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, made his Major League debut at PNC Park for a legitimately contending Pirates team. The Bucs drew 30,614 fans on a Tuesday night, and they dreamed of a promising future led by the homegrown ace who zoomed through the Minors. Cole allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings and the Pirates beat the Giants, 8-2. Don’t forget that Cole was excellent when it mattered that season, too, posting a 1.69 ERA in September.
7) No hits? No problem
Date: Aug. 23, 2017
An unforgettable, historic 1-0 victory amid a brutal stretch in a disappointing season. For eight innings, Dodgers starter Rich Hill was perfect. He didn’t allow a hit through nine innings. But rookie starter Trevor Williams worked eight gritty, scoreless innings and the game went to extras. Then suddenly, the Pirates’ first hit -- Josh Harrison’s leadoff home run down the left-field line -- ended the game in the 10th inning. It was truly history, as Harrison became the first player in the Majors to ever break up a no-hitter with a walk-off homer.
8) Winning in the rain
Date: July 15, 2018
Consider the circumstances here: The Brewers rolled into PNC Park in first place for a five-game/four-day series to finish the first half. A week before, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had said that the Bucs needed more than an average week to prevent a Trade Deadline sell-off. Pittsburgh responded by reeling off a sweep of Milwaukee amid an 11-game winning streak highlighted by this 7-6, walk-off victory. With rain pouring down and lightning striking in the distance as the game dragged into the 10th inning, Josh Bell smacked a two-out double to center and Colin Moran slid home to score the winning run.
9) A new era begins
Date: April 1, 2011
This 6-3 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field makes the list for its symbolic meaning as much as anything. It was Clint Hurdle’s first game as the Pirates’ manager, and he brought with him a boundless sense of optimism that would ultimately serve the team well. And the biggest hit in this Opening Day victory came from Neil Walker, the Pittsburgh kid: a fifth-inning grand slam off Ryan Dempster.
10) Like kids again
Date: Aug. 20, 2017
The events of the day were arguably more memorable than the Sunday night game, but it all ran together as the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 6-3, in the inaugural MLB Little League Classic at BB&T Park. This was the start of a tradition in Williamsport, Pa., a Major League game at a Minor League park in front of a Little League audience, representing baseball in its purest form -- as a game for kids. And the Pirates embraced every part of it, from the bus rides with Little League World Series teams to the game that ended with a handshake line across home plate.
Honorable mentions/highlights that just missed the cut
• June 7, 2012: Clint Barmes and Michael McKenry hit back-to-back doubles off the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, who finished that season with a 1.51 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings, to give the Pirates a highly unlikely 5-4 win in 10 innings at Great American Ball Park.
• June 23, 2013: The Pirates scored three runs in the ninth to force extras in Anaheim, scored four runs in the 10th, then gave up three runs but held on to beat the Angels, 10-9. Jason Grilli struck out Mike Trout to end it.
• Oct. 4, 2013: Gerrit Cole pitched six dominant innings and drove in a run, and Pedro Álvarez and Starling Marte homered in the Pirates’ 7-1 romp over the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS.
• May 6, 2014: Starling Marte tripled and scored the winning run on an error in the ninth inning of a 2-1 win over the Giants at PNC Park. Why is this notable? It was the first walk-off replay review in MLB history. History!