Best Opening Day moments in Pirates history
PITTSBURGH -- Opening Day is one of the most special days of the year, and it has helped create some special moments.
With a long history, the Pirates have had their fair share of Opening Day memories, even though more have come on the road than at home. Here is a look at some of the best moments in the club's history in Game No. 1.
1. A tribute and a triumph
April 6, 1973: Pirates 7, Cardinals 5
How does a team begin a season after the death of one of its greatest icons? After Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash during an international aid trip, the Pirates were faced with this harsh reality. The mood was more somber during the pregame ceremonies on Opening Day at Three Rivers Stadium in 1973, as the club honored and retired the famous No. 21 in front of a crowd of 51,695.
The season opener itself was a tough draw against Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, especially after Pittsburgh found itself in a five-run hole after three innings. But the Pirates rallied late against Gibson, striking for a run in the sixth and in the seventh innings and then chasing him with a rally in the eighth that led to five runs.
“Man, it’s a big win,” Willie Stargell told The Pittsburgh Press. “It means a lot to a team winning this way, coming from behind like we did. It means a lot more when we do it against a pitcher like Gibson.”
2. Son of Pittsburgh
April 1, 2011: Pirates 6, Cubs 3
Every team loves a hometown hero, and Opening Day in 2011 cemented one for Pittsburgh. Neil Walker, a native of the North Hills region of the Steel City, appeared in 127 games for the Pirates from '09-10, but his first taste of Opening Day was in a muggy, rainy Wrigley Field in '11.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Walker worked a full count before unloading on a Ryan Dempster pitch to deep right-center field. He went on to finish the season as the Pirates’ second-most-productive player (2.6 bWAR), behind Andrew McCutchen (5.4 bWAR), part of a seven-year tenure with his hometown team.
3. Better late than never
April 12, 1965: Pirates 1, Giants 0
In a game featuring all-time greats like Clemente, Stargell and Willie Mays, neither team could scratch across a run through nine innings at Forbes Field. Bob Veale (three hits allowed) went neck and neck with Hall of Famer Juan Marichal heading to the bottom of the 10th. Third baseman Bob Bailey led off the inning and ended the pitchers' duel with a deep drive to left-center field, walking it off for the home team.
4. Son of Pittsburgh, part 2
March 31, 2014: Pirates 1, Cubs 0
The Pirates had mustered only five hits in nine innings against the Cubs at PNC Park, as a scoreless tie went to extra innings. Bryan Morris allowed a single to Emilio Bonifacio in the top of the 10th but quickly picked him off and shut the door to set up a walk-off homer from the Pittsburgh native Walker in the bottom of the frame.
One player, two Opening Day winners, three years between them.
5. Taking it to Roberts
April 13, 1954: Pirates 4, Phillies 2
Phillies ace Robin Roberts was in the prime of his Hall of Fame career when the cross-state team visited Forbes Field on Opening Day in 1954. Through seven innings, Roberts had allowed only three hits and had two runs of support under his belt.
But in the eighth inning, Cal Abrams and Bob Skinner hit back-to-back run-scoring singles to end Roberts' day. Then Hal Rice gave the Pirates the lead with an RBI double before Frank Thomas' sac fly rounded out the scoring. Roberts ultimately recorded 40 wins against the Pirates in his career -- his most vs. any team.
• April 10, 1975: Stargell went 4-for-4 with two homers, including the game-winner in the eighth inning, in an 8-4 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
• March 31, 2003: The Pirates scored six runs on three homers in the second inning en route to a 10-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
• March 31, 2008: The Bucs won a 12-inning thriller, 12-11, over the Braves at Turner Field, led by Xavier Nady's 4-for-7 day with two homers, including the three-run winning shot.