The Pirates, formerly the Alleghenys, have represented Pittsburgh since 1882, making them one of the oldest baseball organizations in history. According to MLB.com, the Bucs are only younger than the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. The Cincinnati Reds started playing the same year as the Pirates. In all those years, the Pirates have had their share of defining moments, whether it be a single game or a World Series or an incident in a particular contest. We’re not talking long losing streaks or record-breaking strikeout totals that went for a season.
There’s plenty of debate to be had with a list like this, as it could be much longer or a few defining moments shorter. We felt like 13 was the perfect number because, well, the Pirates snapped their string of losing seasons in 2013. Are there any moments I forgot about?
— A memorable playoff victory (Oct. 1 2013, Wild Card victory over the Reds) Reds ace Johnny Cueto had previously owned the Pirates, shutting them down on most occasions, but he faced an intimidating 10th man at PNC Park in a National League Wild Card playoff game. The one-game series had the winner moving on to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. The Pirates, and a suddenly reborn fan base, got the best of Cueto and the Reds to advance. The 2013 season was special, but this victory was the highlight. On a national stage, PNC Park was electric, and it showed that Pittsburgh could be a baseball town again. The Bucs went on to lose to the Cards in the NLDS, but the fever was back in the ‘Burgh.
— A trippy accomplishment (Dock Ellis’ June 12, 1970, no-hitter against the Padres) It’s really one of the strangest stories in major-league history. The Pirates were in San Diego to face the Padres, and pitcher Dock Ellis forgot he was supposed to pitch. With that, he decided to take LSD on this day. It didn’t seem to matter, as Ellis went out and tossed a no-hitter. The starting pitcher, who got plenty of help from his fielders in the feat, struck out six and walked eight. To this day — whether good or bad — it’s one MLB feat that will never be forgotten. A remarkable animated video (above), put together by James Blagden, details the whole affair. The season picked up from there, as Ellis and the Pirates went on to with the World Series.
— Not that Babe (Pirates rookie overshadows Cobb-Wagner in 1909 World Series) The 1909 World Series — won by the Pirates in seven games — was billed as the battle between the Pirates’ Honus Wagner and the Tigers’ Ty Cobb, both absolute legends of the game. However, it was a rookie pitcher who delivered the goods for the Bucs in winning their first championship in the modern Major League Baseball era. Manager Fred Clarke took a chance on Babe Adams, and he pitched the Pirates to victories in Games 1, 5 and 7. In doing so, he set a record for victories in the World Series by a rookie. Adams made his last MLB appearance with the Bucs in 1926, compiling a 194-140 record in the bigs.
— Oh, so close (Harvey Haddix tosses 12 inning of perfect baseball in 1959 before losing to the Braves) Without any doubt, It would’ve been the greatest perfect game in major-league history. “Would’ve been” being the key words. Haddix, nicknamed the Kitten, took a perfect game into the 13th inning against Milwaukee on May 26, 1959, and lost it in the bottom of the inning after a fielding error by Don Hoak. Three batters later, the Braves’ Joe Adcock connected on a home run that put the no-hit bid and the game to rest. All these years later, some folks still consider Haddix’s near-perfect outing as the greatest pitching performance in MLB history. Even more so when it was revealed years later that the Braves had been stealing signs throughout the game.
— Beating back a giant (Pirates beat Walter Johnson and the Senators in Game 7 to win 1925 World Series) Entering Game 7 of the 1925 World Series, the Pirates faced one of the best pitchers in MLB history in Walter Johnson. The Hall of Famer had held the Bucs to one run in Games 1 and 4, but the guys from Pittsburgh had the momentum going into the deciding contest against the defending champion Washington Senators. The Pirates climbed out of a 3-1 hole to force a Game 7. In the finale — a game remembered for terrible weather conditions — the Pirates took advantage of two Roger Peckinpaugh errors at shortstop to become the first team in World Series history to come back from a 3-1 deficit.
— A team effort (Pirates pitchers Cordova and Rincon combine for no-hitter vs. Astros in 1997) In a year that saw the Pirates come close to snapping a string of losing seasons, the greatest highlight came on July 12 in front of a sold-out Three Rivers Stadium. Cordova put together nine no-hit innings, before surrendering the game over to Rincon, who masterfully handled the 10th. A walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th by Mark Smith won it for the Bucs. It was history on the North Shore, as Cordova and Rincon put together the only combined, extra-inning no-hitter in modern major-league history. It’s also the last no-hitter recorded by the Pirates. Sadly, things didn’t get much better after that.
— Pops will lead them (Stargell hits .400 to lead Pirates to 1979 World Series victory) Age ain’t nothing but a number, and that was true for Pirates slugger Willie Stargell in the 1979 World Series against the Orioles. Boosted by their veteran power hitter and a certain theme song from Sister Sledge, the Pirates roared back to knock off the Orioles in seven games. Stargell was amazing in the series, batting .400 with a record seven extra-base hits and 25 total bases. His towering home run off of Scott McGregor in the sixth inning of Game 7 propelled the “We Are Family” Bucs to another championship.
— It’s finally over (Pirates clinch first winning season since 1992 with Sept. 9, 2013, win over Rangers) With a record of 79-83 in 2012, the lowly Pirates became the first team in major-league history, not to mention in all of professional sports, to have 20 consecutive losing seasons. On Sept. 3, in Milwaukee, the team ended the streak. A few days later, in Texas, the Pirates, behind a solid performance from rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole, clinched their first-winning season since 1992. It was a most-welcome moment for Pittsburghers who so wanted a major-league team that could compete on the highest levels.
— Breaking down barriers (Pirates start first all-minority lineup in MLB history on Sept. 1, 1971) It’s one of the lesser known facts about the Pirates, but on Sept. 1, 1971, with manager Danny Murtaugh at the helm, the team started the first all-minority lineup in major-league history. The lineup (as seen above) was led by an outfield that included Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. Dock Ellis took the mound for the Bucs. Sure, the Pirates also played the first World Series night game at Three Rivers Stadium that same season, but the all-minority lineup was much more important to the sport.
— It takes two (Clemente and Blass lead Pirates to 1971 World Series victory) The Pirates won their fourth World Series title — knocking off the Orioles in seven — behind the strong performances of pitcher Steve Blass and right fielder Roberto Clemente. Blass, a 15-game winner during the season, hung tough in the series, winning Games 3 and 7 with complete performances. Then, there was Clemente, the MVP of the World Series. The right fielder was unstoppable at the plate, batting .414 for the seven-game series, He also notched a tremendous home run in Game 7 to lift the Pirates to an ultimate victory.
— Safe at home (Braves slide past Pirates in 1992 NLCS to go to World Series) It’s arguably the worst moment in the history of the Pirates organization. The World Series was on the line in 1992, and the Pirates had a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. With the bases loaded and the Braves at bat, Francisco Cabrera smacked a two-run single that scored David Justice and Sid Bream. It sent Atlanta to the World Series and the Pirates back to Pittsburgh. It was the last, best shot for that Pirates team. The organization followed that dramatic loss with 20 years of losing baseball.
— A lasting image (Roberto Clemente gets his 3,000th hit on Sept. 30, 1972) Roberto Clemente will be remembered for a lot of things, whether it be his prowess at the plate, his rocket throws from right or his tremendous ability to help people. In all of those memories, and so many more, the lasting image of arguably the greatest Pirates player of all time is his 3,000th hit on Sept. 30, 1972 against Jon Matlack of the New York Mets. It would be the last season Clemente played, as he was killed in a plane crash on Dec. 31 in the process of delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
— Maz’s smash (Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 walk-off homer in the 1961 World Series) When most baseball fans talk about the defining moment in Pirates history, they talk about Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the Bronx Bombers. The Hall of Fame second baseman’s shot won the World Series for the Pirates against a Yankees lineup that included names like Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford. It came on Oct. 13 at Forbes Field, giving the Pirates their first World Series championship since 1925. It’ll probably never be topped in the long history of the Pirates.
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