It’s a bit comical to look back at the good times from a 78-win season, but in the honor of New Year’s Eve and this day of reflection, I thought we’d look back and recap the top 10 moments/games of the Pirates 2016 season. Let’s work backwards from 10 to numero uno. The top four moments were voted on by our followers on Twitter. If you have any moments that are not on this list, feel free to add them in the comment section below.
10. McCutchen’s Three Home Run Game (April 26)
Who said Cutch couldn’t hit in the two hole? Yes, even in the worst year of his career, Andrew McCutchen still hit three homers in one game. It was early in the season on April 26 as the Pirates were in the middle of a series at Coors Field when McCutchen went off. He started early with a solo shot in the 1st inning then belted another solo home run off Jorge De La Rosa in the top of the 2nd inning for a quick two home runs. After a groundout, Cutch came up with two on in the 6th inning and drilled a pitch to deep RF for his third home run of the game to put the Pirates up 7-3. It was Cutch’s second 3-HR game of his career and first since his rookie year in ’09. The Bucs would win 9-4 to improve to 12-9 early in the season. Who said Cutch couldn’t hit in the two hole?
9. Trevor Williams Debut (September 7)
It wasn’t so much the debut for the California righthander Trevor Williams, but the meeting with his father behind home plate that was so memorable on September 7. Williams tossed 3.0 innings of relief, allowing one unearned run with three strikeouts to get the win in the Pirates 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. Immediately following the game, Williams met his family behind home plate and hugged his Dad and presented him with the game ball as Richard Williams got caught up in the moment and broke down. The interaction presented a great father/son moment.
8. Pirates Finally Hit Arrieta (July 8)
It was only about 10 months too late, but the Pirates appeared to flip a switch on Jake Arrieta on a Friday night at PNC Park. Arrieta fired a five-hit complete game shutout in the NL Wildcard game in October 2015 to bounce the Pirates from the playoffs. This time, however, the Pirates had enough of Arrieta. They broke through in the 2nd inning on home runs by David Freese and Sean Rodriguez to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead. The Cubs battled back to take a 4-3 lead, but the Pirates chased Arrieta in the bottom of the 7th inning with single after single after single to score four runs and defeat Arrieta and the Cubbies 8-4. It wasn’t much vindication for this happening in July and not the wildcard game, but the Pirates ended up lighting up Arrieta twice more in 2016 after finally flipping the switch on him.
7. Cole’s HR Propels Pirates to 27-19 Record (May 26)
Things were looking good for the Buccos on the night of May 26. They had just swept the Diamondbacks to improve to 27-19, their horrific 9-19 June hadn’t started yet and they were in second place, four games up on the Cardinals and four and half back of the Cubs. Things took a turn not long after this series, but the Pirates were right on pace against Arizona. The Pirates finished off the sweep of the D-Backs and while Gerrit Cole would get the no decision in the 8-3 victory, he was a big part of the win when he belted a three-run home run to dead CF off Arizona starter Patrick Corbin. It was Cole’s second home run of his career and the Pirates were flying high after the sweep.
6. A Martay Partay in the 18th Inning (July 17)
In the first series following the All-Star break, the Pirates were looking to avoid a sweep by the Nationals on a Sunday afternoon in Washington as the Pirates took a 1-0 lead into the 9th inning when Mark Melancon blew a rare save. Daniel Murphy hit a two-out HR to tie the game and the two teams decided to play an extra game. There was no scoring until Starling Marte had enough in the top of the 18th inning…
Who could forget about that kid? He went through an entire range of emotions from the 9th inning on in this one. Marte had originally put the Pirates up 1-0 in the 6th inning with an RBI double and he finished the Nationals off with that blast off former Bucco Oliver Perez. Marte didn’t hit many home runs last year, but that one was a big one to end the 18-inning marathon and avoid the sweep to start the second half.
5. Locke/Kratz Defeat Bumgarner in 1-0 Stunner (June 20)
The #CantPredictBaseball hashtag might as well been created for this game. The Pirates were awful in June, but on June 20, Jeff Locke and Erik Kratz provided a rare occurrence. First, Locke (coming into game with a 5.92 ERA) outdueled Giants ace Madison Bumgarner (1.85 ERA) as the Pirates southpaw tossed a scoreless 6.2 innings with just five hits allowed with three strikeouts. Even more stunning was that Kratz, acquired due to all the injuries to Pirate catchers, blasted a solo home run in the 5th inning off Bumgarner barely out of Angel Pagan‘s reach to give the Pirates a 1-0 victory at PNC Park. Kratz hit .107/.107/.179 on the season, but his first home run since 2014 help give the Pirates their only win during an eight-game stretch. This was basically the only positive moment in June 2016.
4. Opening Day Victory over Cardinals (April 3)
Things were looking promising when the Pirates opened the 2016 season with a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals before a sellout crowd of 39,500 at PNC Park. Francisco Liriano outdueled Adam Wainwright while striking out a career high 10 batters with six scoreless innings. Liriano’s five walks were a sign of things to come for him, but it was overlooked on this day as the Pirates did enough to win 4-1. The Bucs won the next night on a walkoff in 11 innings and then a 5-1 victory behind the pitching of Juan Nicasio (look it up, it actually happened) to sweep the Cardinals and start the season 3-0 and in first place all by themselves. The season was looking oh, so good.
3. Jaso Goes Cycling (September 29)
If I would have told you one of the Pirates players would hit for the cycle in 2016, how high would John Jaso been on your list? And how about that cycle coming off of Jake Arrieta? In late September with just a couple games left in an otherwise miserable season for the Pittsburgh Baseball Club, Jaso made history of his own. Jaso hit for the first cycle in PNC Park history and first Pirates player to make the feat since Daryle Ward in 2004.
Jaso started with a single in his first at-bat and followed it up with a three-run home run to right off Arrieta in the fourth inning to give the Pirates a 4-1 lead. Yes, the Pirates lit up Arrieta again in this fun contest. Jaso then ripped an RBI double off Arrieta in the 5th inning, leaving himself a triple short of the cycle. The easy one, of course. In the bottom of the 7th inning with a runner on first, Jaso got his chance against Pedro Strop and ripped a fly ball over the center fielder’s head, the ball smacked off the wall and died at the base of the wall on the warning track. Jaso had an easy double, but continue to run through it and slid into third safe for a triple and the completion of his cycle. The Pirates would win 8-4, their 78th and final win of 2016.
2. Chad Kuhl Defeats Kershaw in ML Debut (June 26)
There are nerves for making your first Major League start and then there are nerves for making your first Major League start on national TV against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Kuhl was called up after a stellar season at Triple-A Indy with a 2.36 ERA in 16 starts and facing an uphill battle when he was slated to make the start on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN against Kershaw and Dodgers.
The Pirates put up a four spot on Kershaw in the 2nd inning thanks to a bases-clearing double by Freese and while Kuhl wasn’t great, he did enough to pick up the victory and put the Bucs in position for a win. Kuhl allowed three runs in 5.0 innings of work with four hits, four walks and five strikeouts for his first ML win as Nicasio, A.J. Schugel and Melancon shut the door on LA.
And Twitter has spoken! Voted on by you, here’s the resounding winner of the top Pirates moment of 2016…
1.STAND UP AND RING YOUR BELL (July 9)
Take it away Greg Brown as he sets this up perfectly right before the pitch…
It’s ironic that during the Cubs historic World Series winning season in a bajillion years, two of the best moments of the Pirates season would still come against the Cubs. We all remember it. It was Josh Bell‘s first weekend with the team, just his second at-bat in the Majors, we couldn’t wait to see what the kid could do, we were wondering why he wasn’t starting at all that weekend and then he pinch-hit in a big spot and smoked a 1-1 offering from Adam Warren for a grand slam that nearly cleared the RF seats above Clemente’s Wall. I could listen to Brownie’s call all offseason…I may just do that actually.
After four plate appearances in the bigs and zero starts, Bell went back to Triple-A until returning full-time in August where he finished hitting .273/.368/.406 in 128 at-bats, two shy of losing his rookie eligibility. He should stick in the Majors from here on out and let’s hope Bell ends that revolving door at first base that’s been a weakness of the Pirates for years.