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.