Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates

A Pirates win that the Pearsons would have loved

I’m a fan of the TV show This is Us, which is in its third season and airs on NBC on Tuesday night.

In last week’s episode, one of the subplots involved one of the Pearson boys, Kevin, going with his mother to get an autograph from the Pirates pitcher John Smiley, who was about to be traded to the Twins. Pittsburgh sports have been integrated into the show’s plots previously, with Franco Harris and “The Immaculate Reception” playing a role in the first date of the husband and wife, Jack and Rebecca.

So I went looking for a walk-off that Jack, Kevin, and the rest of the Pearson family would have liked. I found a good one from the 1991 season.

The Pirates won their second of three straight NL East titles that season. Games like this were the reason why. This was a ridiculous win.

It was a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon that April 10 when the Pirates and Cubs played at Three Rivers Stadium, a game that featured a paid crowd of barely 10,000.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth when the Pirates scored twice. Mike LaValliere had an RBI double and Jose Lind plated a run with a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs countered with three runs in the sixth, with future Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson each recording RBI hits against Randy Tomlin. The Cubs then added four runs in the seventh inning, with the key play an error by shortstop Jay Bell that scored two. So after 7 ½ innings, the Cubs led 7-2.

But the Pirates weren’t done. Orlando Merced hit a two-run triple off Cubs reliever Paul Assenmacher in the eighth for his first MLB RBIs and Bobby Bonilla’s two-run home run later in the inning cut the Cubs lead to 7-6. I was glad that the This is Us writers picked Smiley rather than Bonilla to be the focal point of that part of the story. Bonilla may be a nice person, but I never saw it in his time with the Mets.

The Pirates trailed 7-6 going to the bottom of the ninth and would have to muster a comeback against former Astros closer Dave Smith. Jeff King got things started with a single and Don Slaught bunted him to second base. Jose Lind flied out, but pinch-hitter Gary Varsho found a hole and grounded a game-tying double to right field. The Pirates had rallied from five runs down to tie.

Here’s where things get crazy. The Pirates squandered a chance to win the game in the 10th, when Don Slaught grounded out with the winning run on third base.

The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the 11th and Doug Dascenzo brought home the go-ahead run with a single. Dawson followed that up with a grand slam. The Cubs led by five runs, 12-7, going to the bottom of the 11th inning.

This Is Us often invokes making the most out of the worst situations (though the situations they present are usually much more important and more dire than sports). The Pirates made the most of their worst situation here. Dan Fogelman and his writing staff could not have penned a better script (and they’ve written some great ones!)

A walk and two singles loaded the bases. Bell doubled in two runs against reliever Mike Bielecki. Andy Van Slyke’s sacrifice fly was the first out, but brought in a run that cut the Cubs lead to 12-10. Bonilla walked and Barry Bonds singled, making it 12-11. Bonds was in a 1-for-26 slump and had struck out four times prior to the hit. After a walk to Gary Redus, Slaught came up with the bases loaded.

Second chances are also often a This is Us theme. In this case, Slaught took advantage of his second chance to win the game. His double over the center fielder’s head brought home Bonilla and Bonds to win the game.

“You are lucky if you get one chance to win a game,” Slaught told reporters afterwards. “You don’t ever get a second chance.”

In all, the Pirates came back from five runs down twice to win. If the Pearson’s were there, I’d like to think they stuck it out until the end.


Roberto Clemente & the 1971 Pirates just wouldn’t lose

When I look back at a championship team, I like to try to find a game from their season that tells you that the championship was meant to be. Admittedly, it’s a bit contrived on my part, but I am a believer that championships are won long before the last pitch is thrown or last swing is taken.

In the case of the 1971 Pirates, I don’t profess to know them that well, but in looking at the box score of their game with the Padres on July 15, I’m of the belief that probably was their game to savor.

The Pirates trailed by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning. They trailed by a run in the bottom of the 13th inning. And they trailed by a run in the bottom of the 16th inning. And they won the game

The ninth-inning tying run came home on a sacrifice fly by Gene Alley. But the tying run in the 16th was a little more exciting. Padres pitcher Al Severinsen struck out the first two batters and then faced Willie Stargell, who had struck out four times and popped to third. But remember, this is Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell and in what was a Hall-of-Fame kind of moment, Stargell homered to tie the game.

Richie Hebner had a similar moment, albeit this one with one out in the 16th inning, also homering to tie the game.

Since the Padres seemingly refused to win this one (their 61-100 record makes sense), it was left to another Hall-of-Famer to end this one. Roberto Clemente came up with one out in the bottom of the 17th inning. He was 0-for-7 for the game. Guess what?

He homered to right field to win the game.

The Pirates went on to win the World Series, beating the Orioles in 7 games. They won Game 7 in Baltimore to clinch the series, with Clemente hitting the go-ahead home run. They knew that was doable from winning games like this one.