Sunday, October 4, 2009

Top 10 Moments for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009

Here are some of the most memorable moments from the 2009 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’d like to know what you think of these. You could even add your own top moments in the comments section. I’d like to see what your opinion is. All of these events are in chronological order. Without further ado…

4/12/09 - Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, and Adam LaRoche – Triple Play vs. Cincinnati Reds
For the first time since 1993, the Pirates turned a triple play. The last time the rare feat occurred for the Buccos, Jay Bell, Carlos Garcia, and Kevin Young completed the feat against the St. Louis Cardinals at Three Rivers Stadium. The last time this feat was completed on the road for the Buccos was in 1968, against the Reds. It was the bottom of the 8th inning on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Great American Ballpark. Down 2-0, the Pirates were looking for some late heroics to make an attempt at a comeback. Jesse Chavez had already walked Brandon Phillips and gave up an infield single to Jay Bruce to put runners at first and second with no one out. Edwin Encarnacion steps up to the plate, looking to drive in a couple of insurance runs. Phillips and Bruce ran on contact, a line drive to short stop Jack Wilson. Wilson gloved the liner, tossed on to Freddy Sanchez, who threw it on to Adam Laroche at first to complete the 6-4-3 triple play. Sadly, the defensive gem would not be able to motivate the offense, as the Pirates went on to lose to the Reds 2-0.

4/13/09 - Zach Duke throws a 4-hit complete game shutout in Home Opener vs. Houston Astros What a fitting way to open the 2009 campaign at PNC Park. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon, perfect for a sold out crowd of 38,411. Zach Duke took to the mound, wearing Pittsburgh Police caps, honoring the three police officers who were killed 9 days earlier in a shootout in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. The emotional pre-game ceremony gave way to an exciting afternoon of baseball as Zach Duke, with some offensive assistance from Adam LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez, defeated the Houston Astros 7-0. Duke pitched a 4-hit 120 pitch shutout, the fourth of his career. The fourth complete game in 100 starts. This outing would be a foreshadowing of the rest of ’09 for Zach Duke.

Winning records in April and June
With a line-up that looked completely different from the line-up posted on the final day of the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates gave their fan base a slight glimmer of hope by posting an 11-10 record in April. The Opening Day line up looked like this: Nyjer Morgan, LF; Freddy Sanchez, 2B; Nate McLouth (remember him??), CF; Ryan Doumit, C; Adam LaRoche, 1B; Andy LaRoche, 3B; Brandon Moss, RF; Jack Wilson, SS. April included an opening 4 game split with the Cardinals, a rain shortened 2 game series split against the Reds, an emotional and exciting Home Opener against the Astros, and a huge 3 game sweep against the Florida Marlins, which some felt would define the Pirates season. The Pirates ended April one game over .500.

June was another one game above .500 month. They started off sweeping the Mets in a-what should have been 4 game but instead was-3 game series. There was a 7-5 record against American League teams in June, and an appearance by the Penguins and Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Pirates ended June 14-13 and 36-41 overall, a mere 5 games below .500. Oh, the line up at the end of June: Andrew McCutchen, CF; Sanchez, 2B; Delwyn Young, RF; Ad. LaRoche, 1B; An. LaRoche 3B; Moss, LF; Robizon Diaz, C; Wilson, SS.

6/4/09 – Andrew McCutchen’s debut vs. New York Mets
As the school year was winding down, I had some vacation time left. What a better way to use some vacation time than by spending an afternoon watching the Buccos playing some meaningful baseball at the beginning of June. Just one day after the blockbuster trade that sent keystone player Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves, I was excited about seeing what the much hyped Andrew McCutchen could do. It was obvious from day one that McCutchen was gearing for Rookie of the Year honors. McCutchen wowed 20,683 in attendance, which I believe included something like 5,000 walk-up ticket buyers just that morning. As they say…Cutch happens. And it happened that day. McCutchen went 2-4 with two singles, a stolen base, three runs, and a walk. Not a bad start for Cutch.

7/17/09 – Maholm v. Lincecum vs. San Francisco Giants
This game is by far my favorite game of the entire season. I was excited to get the opportunity to see Tim Lincecum pitch. I was even more excited when I saw that Paul Maholm would be the Pirates hurler to face off against one of the best pitchers in the majors. This was also the first game back since the All-Star Game. Lincecum would end up going seven innings. Maholm went eight. The Giants starter gave up 5 hits, one run, one walk, and struck out ten. Maholm had four hits, one run, zero walks, and seven strike outs in his eight innings of work.

7/17/09 – Garret Jones hits two homeruns vs. San Francisco Giants
I have been a season ticket holder since 2006, and I have had the opportunity to see some exciting games at PNC Park. One game I will always remember will be this one. And this list features the two reasons why I will always remember this game. It’s also one of my favorite games of all time. Garret Jones, in addition to Paul Maholm, were the heroes for this game. As detailed above, Maholm pitched eight solid innings. Jones hit his first homerun of the game in the first inning off of Tim Lincecum with no one on and two outs. In the seventh inning, the Giants tied the game as Randy Winn crossed the plate. The score would remain 1-1 until the bottom of the 14th inning, when Jones stepped to the plate. With an 0-1 count, Jones launched an 82mph pitch from Bob Howry onto the Riverwalk and into the Allegheny River. Walk off homerun. Awesome game.

8/1/09 – McCutchen’s 3 HR Night vs. Washington Nationals
Just about two months into his MLB career, Andrew McCutchen was already proving himself to be a worthy replacement to Nate McLouth. By this time, I know I found myself often saying “Nate who?” Andrew McCutchen solidified himself as the real deal this night. He would go 4-5 with 3 homeruns and a single. Cutch scored 4 runs and had 6 RBIs on this evening. Two homeruns would have been amazing. Three required a curtain call from the fans at PNC Park. This game resulted in a lot of Rookie of the Year talk for “Cutch”.

9/5/09 – Ohlendorf Ks 11 vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Ross Ohlendorf was the best and most consistent starting pitcher for the Pirates in 2009. On this September night, Ross would end up having one of his best games of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ohlendorf pitched eight solid innings of baseball, taking a 1-1 tie into the ninth inning. Let’s not forget the top of the seventh inning. Ohlendorf struck out the side 1-2-3. Khalil Greene sat down after three pitches. Julio Lugo sat down after three pitches. Jason LaRue sat down after three pitches. Nine, count ‘em, NINE pitches. This was called “The Perfect Inning”. Nine pitches and three strike outs. Too bad Matt Capps blew it in the 10th.

9/28/09 – Andy LaRoche goes 5-5 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Andy LaRoche lived up to some of the hype that followed him when he came to Pittsburgh from the Dodgers in the 2008 trade that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to LA. After a disappointing 2008, Andy really stepped up and proved that he should be considered a legitimate third baseman in the majors. This Monday afternoon proved to be a career game for the younger LaRoche brother. Andy went 5-5 with two homeruns, two doubles, and a single. LaRoche was a triple away from the cycle when he hit a double into center field. You can tell Andy really wanted that triple too, as he was about half way to third when he realized that he wouldn’t have made it there safely. LaRoche’s first homerun was a wind blown shot to dead center. The second was a shot high off the left field foul pole, which would have gone about 3 or 4 rows up the rotunda if it didn’t hit the foul pole. LaRoche ended up going 10-18 (.555) against his former club. What a way to end the season at PNC Park.

9/28/09 – Zach Duke pitches 8 2/3 innings vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
I feel like Zach Duke was in a unique situation. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Houston Astros on April 13th in the Home Opener. Now, in the season finale at PNC Park, Zach Duke once again had the opportunity to bookend his season. Zach Duke was a lot better in 2009 than his record indicated. If he had the offensive support, Zach Duke, as well as Ross Ohlendorf, could have easily had 15 wins this year. Duke got all the run support he would need in the second inning when the Pirates scored five runs. The Pirates would go on to score 11 runs in this game. As the ninth inning got under way, Zach retired Juan Pierre on a groundout. Orlando Hudson hit a triple to center field. Duke got Chin-lung Hu to fly out to center field, allowing Orlando Hudson to score from third. That hit summoned John Russell to come out from the dugout. Russell takes the ball from Duke to a chorus of boos that could probably be heard in LA. Donnie Veal comes in and strikes out Blake DeWitt to end the game. Russell’s explination for pulling Duke…he wanted Zach to get his proper applause from the fans for his performance. Break out the toilet paper because Russell needs to wipe his mouth of all the crap.

As I was doing this, I felt like I should give some honorable mentions to other things that stuck out this year, in no particular order:
9/21-9/22/09 - Pirates defeat Reds while celebrating 1979 World Series Championship team
9/17-9/19/09 - Pirates sweep the hated Brewers
7/12/09 – Zach Duke replaces Matt Cain on All-Star Team roster
6/14/09 – Pirates celebrate 1909 World Series championship with throwback style game and the Penguins are honored at PNC Park
5/17/09 – Pirates score 10 in the 7th inning against the Rockies

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