Pittsburgh Pirates' Season Review: The Bucs' Five Best and Worst Games of 2012
The Pittsburgh Pirates' 2012 season was many things to many people, alternatively uplifting and distressing, but it was certainly eventful.
The Pirates have had a flair for the dramatic over the past few years, and this season was no exception. Walk-off wins matched gut-wrenching losses, while the victories that built the Bucs' season during the summer became defeats as the campaign fell apart in September.
The Bucs had a few season-defining moments in particular, games that optimists and pessimists alike will not soon forget.
Loss No. 5: Cubs 12, Pirates 2 (September 7)
The Pirates were already struggling before the start of their early-September series against the Cubs, but with three series against the Cubs and Astros coming up, there was a decent chance for the Bucs to turn their season around and make a playoff run.
Seven consecutive losses later, and the Pirates had gone from fighting for a Wild Card berth to hoping to finish above .500.
The September 7 loss to the Cubs, the first of the seven straight, was the worst of the bunch. The Bucs committed seven errors (the number seven is not popping up in a lot of positive ways on this slide) in a game Manager Clint Hurdle called the Pirates' worst of the season.
Win No. 5: Pirates 9, Cardinals 0 (August 28)
Just as not all bad losses are gut-wrenching defeats, not all memorable victories are dramatic conquests.
Still in the heat of the wild-card race, the Pirates found themselves matched up against their chief competition, the St. Louis Cardinals, in a mid-week ESPN matchup. While the game was most noteworthy for a big collision between Josh Harrison and Yadier Molina, the Bucs dominated their playoff-bound opponents in front of the national audience.
Pedro Alvarez had one of his typical peak days, hitting two home runs and driving in four as the Pirates cruised to victory, and Wandy Rodriguez shut down the potent St. Louis offense. With America watching, the Bucs showed they could hang with the defending world champs.
Loss No. 4 : Brewers 3, Pirates 2 (September 1)
Miller Park continued to be a house of horrors for the Pirates in 2012, and September 1 was no exception.
Following a series-opening loss the night before, Andrew McCutchen (who tied the game with an eighth-inning single) and the Bucs had clawed their way back into a 2-2 game when Corey Hart stepped to the plate against Joel Hanrahan.
Two pitches and one hanging curveball later, the Pirates were walking off the field as losers.
Hart's walk-off homer set the stage for another Milwaukee sweep of the Pirates at Miller Park. From August 24 through September 20, the Brewers won eight of nine games against the Pirates.
Win No. 4: Pirates 10, Dodgers 6 (August 16)
Better known as the "STFD" game, the Pirates' 10-6 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers showed that this team still had some fight left in them and set the stage for a memorable weekend series in St. Louis.
After a wild first several innings that saw both teams trade leads and Hanley Ramirez taunt A.J. Burnett following a fourth-inning home run, Burnett faced Ramirez again while protecting an 8-4 lead in the sixth. Then this happened.
It was a big moment for a Pittsburgh team that has not had many fiery leaders in recent seasons.
Loss No. 3: Reds 4, Pirates 3 (September 10)
Even during the worst stretches of the Pirates' late-season collapse, the Bucs remained competitive in most games. This early-September loss to the Reds, smack in the middle of the Pirates' seven-game losing streak, was a heartbreaking example of that.
The Pirates lost when Ryan Ludwick hit a two-out, walk-off infield single in the bottom of the 14th inning. In the top of the 14th inning, the Bucs had loaded the bases with no outs and failed to score. That pretty much sums things up.
There were some good moments for the Bucs, including Andrew McCutchen hitting a home run off of Mat Latos, but this was just another loss that would be hard to recover from emotionally.
Win No. 3: Pirates 8, Astros 7 (July 3)
A mid-season victory over the cellar-dwelling Houston Astros became one of the highlights of the Bucs' year and may end up being the highlight of a former Pirate's career.
Journeyman Drew Sutton hit a walk-off home run, his first since October 2010, as the Pirates moved to eight games over .500 for the first time since 1992. The game was typical of the Bucs' resiliency, with Pittsburgh rallying from large deficits throughout the contest before blowing a 7-6 lead in the ninth.
Sutton wouldn't make it through the year with the Pirates, but no Pittsburgh fan will forget the emotional interview he gave after rounding the bases.
Loss No. 2: Padres 7, Pirates 5 (August 21)
The Pirates suffered so many "stomach punch" losses over the last six weeks of the season that it becomes difficult to differentiate between them. Yet this 10-inning defeat to the Padres is hard to top.
The Bucs were trailing 5-3 in the ninth inning when Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer off of San Diego closer Dale Thayer to tie the game. It looked like the Pirates were on the way to a critical come-from-behind victory that would build on the momentum of their prior weekend in St. Louis.
Instead, Daniel McCutchen took the mound in the tenth inning ahead of several more desirable relievers. Pirate fans watched in horror as McCutchen walked the lead-off man and then was allowed to pitch to San Diego star Chase Headley later in the inning. Headley homered, Padre fans went home happy, and Pirate fans began a long 40 days.
Win No. 2: Pirates 5, Reds 4 (June 7)
On a Thursday night in early June, the Pirates announced that they were no longer a doormat in the NL Central.
The Bucs hung tough with the Cincinnati Reds all game, as the two teams were neck-and-neck until a Mike McKenry sacrifice fly put the Pirates ahead 4-3 in the seventh inning. But a Ryan Ludwick home run in the ninth inning pulled the Reds back even and put them on course for a likely victory, with Aroldis Chapman set to pitch the 10th inning.
Instead, Clint Barmes and McKenry combined to create the first earned run Chapman had allowed all season, journeyman reliever Chris Resop got the save, and the era of #whynotnow and the resilient Pittsburgh Pirates was born.
Loss No. 1 : Reds 1, Pirates 0 (September 28)
The Pirates had suffered many humiliations over the course of their 20-year losing streak, but they had not been no-hit until September 28, 2012.
Homer Bailey changed that, shutting the Pirates down as their dismal September crept towards its end. To add insult to injury, the defeat was the Bucs' 82nd of the season.
No-hitters have become more common as pitching has improved, and they have little to no effect on a team's future prospects. Nonetheless, this game was tough for Pirate fans to stomach.
Win No. 1: Pirates 6, Cardinals 3 (August 19)
It was hard for Pirate fans to sit through this game without being reminded of the Jerry Meals fiasco. One year later, one more 19-inning game that could determine the Bucs' fate.
Except this year was different. The Bucs had all sorts of heroes, including James McDonald pinch-hitting and creating a run, but Pedro Alvarez's 19th-inning homer was the big blow. The Pirates' newest star had arrived, and they were no longer snake bitten.
Then September came, and the Bucs' 2012 season wasn't to be. But the Pirates gave their fans hope until the season's final weeks, and no game was a greater indicator of that than their 19-inning victory over the Cardinals.