While the Pirates faded late in the year, their penchant for exciting comebacks led to several memorable games. Below are the Pirates’ top-five games of the 2008 season.
5. Pirates 12, Braves 11 (March 31)
It didn’t take long for the Pirates’ to set the tone for their season. The Bucs’ 12-inning victory on Opening Day was the first of many dramatic victories over the course of 2008.
As was often the case in the first half of the season, the Pirates’ victory was keyed by their offense. A game that was tied 4-4 at the end of the seventh quickly devolved into a slugfest, as the Pirates took a 9-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
It didn’t last. In one of his few poor performances all season, Pittsburgh set-up man Damaso Marte imploded. Closer Matt Capps followed suit with an unexpected hiccup, uncharacteristically walking two Braves before allowing a game tying two-run single to Atlanta catcher Brian McCann.
But the Pirate offense was undeterred. As was often the case early in the year, Xavier Nady was the catalyst. His three-run homer—Nady’s second of the game—in the top of the twelfth gave the Pirates a margin they would not relinquish.
The game also marked the beginning of an extensive breakout year for Pirate center-fielder Nate McLouth. McLouth had three hits, a home run, and four RBI in the game. It would take a long time for him to cool down.
4. Pirates 12, Yankees 5 (June 24)
By far the least exciting actual game, Pittsburgh’s first victory over the New York Yankees since 1960 makes this list because of the giant monkey the Bucs got off of their collective backs.
In several prior years, a back-breaking sweep at the hands of the Bronx Bombers led to an extended slump for the Pirates; the Bucs were unable to recover from an extra-inning defeat each year.
In 2008, however, the Pittsburgh offense made sure there would be no such doubt. Ryan Doumit continued his stellar season, notching three hits (including a homer and a double) to raise his average to .350. For the most part, though, the victory was a team effort, one that gave the Pirates considerable reason to believe that 2008, finally, would be different.
3. Pirates 6, Cubs 5 (May 25)
The Pirates concluded a dramatic weekend with their second walk-off victory in a row over the division-leading Cubs.
Nate McLouth once again led the charge, albeit in an unconventional way. Alfonso Soriano lost McLouth’s deep fly ball in the sun, allowing the Pirates to tie the game 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth.
The weekend was a particularly memorable one for Jason Bay, who had the game-winning hit on both Saturday and Sunday. He showed he was once again the Pirates’ leader, and the Bucs showed they were capable of hanging with the N.L. Central’s elite.
2. Pirates 2, Diamondbacks 0 (August 6)
When Pirate fans learned about the Xavier Nady trade, most were disappointed. Some were excited about Jose Tabata, otherwise about Ross Ohlendorf. Noone was excited about Jeff Karstens.
That changed quickly when Karstens came within four outs of a perfect game in only his second start in Pittsburgh. Coming off a scoreless six-inning outing against the Chicago Cubs in the prior game, Karstens quickly established himself as someone more than worthy of Pirate fans’ attention.
In the process, he almost gave Bucs’ fans their most memorable game of the season.
1. Pirates 12, Cardinals 11 (July 12)
But it was pretty much impossible to surpass this game.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Pirates trailed 10-4. In the bottom of the ninth inning, they trailed 10-6. In the bottom of the tenth, they trailed 11-10. But they just kept coming back.
There were all kinds of heroes in this game—Jason Bay’s eighth-inning homer got the rally started, Nate McLouth’s three-run homer in the ninth brought the Bucs within one, and Luis Rivas scored the game-tying run.
But nobody had a bigger hit than Jason Michaels. When the Pirates found themselves yet again trailing in the eleventh, Michaels came up after a Raul Chavez single. He crushed a ball into the left-field bleachers, completing an epic comeback that had PNC Park rocking louder than it has in years.