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Ranking the 10 Greatest Home Openers in Pittsburgh Pirates History

Ryan GauleCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2016

Ranking the 10 Greatest Home Openers in Pittsburgh Pirates History

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Through only three games played this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates already have two walk-off wins. 

    The Pirates opened their new season in grand style Monday afternoon, as second baseman Neil Walker blasted a walk-off home run to give his team a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs

    With an overall record of 75-58 in home openers, the Pirates have had their share of nail-biting, intense games right out of the gate. 

    Here we take a look at the 10 greatest home openers in Pittsburgh's long history. 

10. April 8, 2002: Pirates Defeat Reds 1-0

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    On Opening Day in 2002, the Pirates got a great pitching effort from Ron Villone, who threw 7.1 innings of shutout baseball. 

    Reds starter Elmer Dessens countered with an outstanding performance of his own, pitching 7.0 innings while allowing only one run. 

    That one run, however, was costly, and the way it happened was memorable. 

    With Brian Giles on second base and facing the dangerous Aramis Ramirez, Dessens balked, and Giles was awarded third base. 

    He would later score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ramirez. It was Pittsburgh's first win in a home opener since the 1993 season. 

9. April 14, 1960: Pirates Defeat Reds

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    Associated Press

    The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates had everything going for them, and they showed it in their home opener against the Reds on April 14. 

    Already leading by five runs, the Pirates scored six in the fifth inning to put the game out of reach. The final score was 13-0 that day, giving the Pirates their first win of the season. 

    Roberto Clemete went 3-for-3 with five RBI that day, and Bill Mazeroski drove in four runs. 

    The victory sparked one of the greatest seasons of all time for the Pirates, who finished 95-59 in the regular season and won the World Series on Mazeroski's home run to beat the New York Yankees in seven games. 

8. April 18, 1947: Pirates Defeat Reds

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    Ernest King

    After winning the first two games of the season at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, the Pirates came home to play the Reds on April 18, 1947. 

    Billy Cox got things going for the Pirates in the bottom of the first, blasting a solo home run off Reds pitcher Joe Beggs. 

    After scratching another run across the plate in the bottom of the third inning, the Pirates allowed two runs to score, which tied the game in the top of the fourth inning. 

    Wally Westlake answered in the bottom of the fourth with a home run to put the Pirates ahead again 3-2.  After the Reds went back ahead with two runs off Pirates starter Fritz Ostermueller, the Pirates broke out with seven runs on six hits in the bottom of the fifth. 

    In that inning, Westlake hit his second home run of the game. He went on to hit .273 with 17 home runs in that season, which was his rookie year. 

    The Reds came storming back in the eighth inning, scoring four runs and cutting the deficit to three. In the top of the ninth, the Reds scored twice, but their comeback hopes died when Tiny Bonham struck out Clyde Vollmer to end the game. 

7. April 11, 1989: Pirates Defeat Mets 4-3

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    Bobby Bonilla was a six-time all star throughout his 16-year career.
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    In Pittsburgh's 1989 home opener, Pirates manager Jim Leyland looked on as his team trailed 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. 

    With one out and a runner on, Bobby Bonilla lined a base hit to center field off Mets reliever Randy Myers. Jose Lind moved to third on the play and would later score on Glenn Wilson's fly ball. 

    The Mets elected to stay with Myers into the 11th inning, and both Lind and Bonilla came through again. 

    After Barry Bonds struck out to lead off the bottom of the 11th, Lind singled to right field and then stole second base. Myers then got Andy Van Slyke to ground out to second base, which moved Lind to third base with two outs. 

    Bonilla stepped in again against Myers and came through for the Pirates, winning the game with his second hit of the night. 

    The Pirates finished that season with a record of 74-88, but on that night, they were celebrating in Pittsburgh.

6. April 16, 1953: Pirates Defeat Phillies

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    Associated Press

    After dropping the first two games of the season to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Pirates came out victorious in their first home game in a wild 14-12 finish against the Phillies

    Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Pirates scored seven times to take a six-run lead. 

    However, that lead did not last long, as the Phillies stormed back with nine runs in the top of the fifth inning. 

    In the bottom half of that inning, the Pirates answered with six runs, and they would not look back from there, as the bullpen held the Phillies to only one more run throughout the remainder of the game. 

    Phillies leadoff hitter Connie Ryan went 6-for-6 at the plate that day with three runs scored. 

    Cal Abrams and Danny O'Connell both homered for the Pirates, who got their first win of the season. 

    There was not much to cheer about in Pittsburgh that season as the Pirates finished 50-104. However, the home opener was a game to remember that season, as Pittsburgh battled back and earned the victory. 

5. April 21, 1927: Pirates Defeat Reds

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    Keith Srakocic

    Led by manager Donie Bush, the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates finished the season with a record of 94-60. 

    In their home opener on April 21, Pirates ace Ray Kremer did it all, pitching a complete game while also blasting a two-run home run to tie the game off Reds starter Eppa Rixey. 

    With the win, Kremer improved to 3-0 on the season. He would go on to win 19 games and own a 2.47 ERA that season, leading the Pirates to the World Series. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the Yankees swept the Fall Classic, but that was one of the best teams in the history of Pittsburgh's organization. 

    Leadoff batter George Grantham drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth inning, and the rest was history as Kremer shut down the Reds. 

4. April 6, 1971: Pirates Defeat Phillies

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    Dock Ellis went 19-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 1971 with the Pirates.
    Associated Press

    The 1971 season was a magical one for the Pirates, and it all began on Opening Day when they defeated the Phillies 4-2. 

    Pirates ace Dock Ellis pitched a complete-game gem, allowing just two runs while striking out eight batters. 

    Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell both collected their first hits of the season that day, and Roberto Clemente uncharacteristically went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. 

    However, Ellis was dominant and even drove in a run at the plate. 

    The victory was just the start of something far more meaningful: the team's first World Series championship since 1960. 

3. April 6, 1992: Pirates Defeat Expos

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    Associated Press

    In their 1992 home opener, the Pirates received another outstanding pitching performance, as Doug Drabek allowed just five hits over 8.0 innings pitched. 

    Montreal's Dennis Martinez was incredible as well, throwing 7.0 innings and allowing two runs on just four hits. 

    The only scoring came in the second inning, as both pitchers got into grooves and continued to mow down batters all game long. 

    The Pirates defeated the Expos 2-0 that day, as they got off on the right foot and never looked back from there. 

    That 1992 season would mark the last time the Pirates would make the playoffs until 2013—a span of 20 full seasons without a postseason berth. 

2. March 31, 2014: Pirates Defeat Cubs 1-0

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    Pirates ace Francisco Liriano got the nod on Opening Day in 2014 and was lights out, allowing four hits while striking out 10 batters in 6.0 innings pitched. 

    However, he was not the one who made headlines in Pittsburgh the next morning. 

    Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija was just as dominant, scattering five hits over 7.0 innings pitched. 

    When both starters were removed from the game, the bullpens for each side kept the game scoreless until the bottom of the 10th inning, when second baseman Neil Walker stepped up to bat. 

    After working a full count, he blasted a game-winning solo shot off Cubs reliever Carlos Villanueva to give the Pirates their first home Opening Day victory since 2010. 

1. April 24, 1934: Pirates Defeat Cardinals

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    Keith Srakocic

    In 1934, the Pirates played their first five games on the road until coming home to host the Cardinals on April 24. 

    With his team trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Hall of Fame left fielder Freddie Lindstrom blasted a walk-off three-run homer to improve his team to 4-2 on the season. It was his only hit of the game, and he couldn't have picked a better time to deliver. 

    Pirates reliever Leon Chagnon earned the victory after completing one inning of work in the top of the ninth. 

    Led by manager George Gibson, the Pirates finished 74-76 that season. 

     

    Note: All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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