The Pirates’ Ten Greatest Games
October 13, 1960: A-Maz-ing!
Few teams have been dominated in the World Series the way the Pirates were by the New York Yankees in 1960—and still won. Winning tight three times and being blown out in their three losses, the Pirates entered the deciding Game Seven having thus far been outscored 46-17. What lay ahead would be one of the greatest games ever played—decided by, quite possibly, baseball’s most memorable home run ever hit.
The Pirates stormed out to a 4-0 lead with two runs in each of the first two innings—all scoring after two were out—signaling that, finally, a rout might be on in their favor. The Yankees at first trickled back with a run in the fifth, then deluged the Pirates with four in the sixth off bruised starter Vern Law (sore ankle) and star reliever Roy Face to take a 5-4 lead. New York added two more in the eighth to up the lead to 7-4, and now the lively sellout Forbes Field throng was beginning to sense a resignation of impending loss.
In the bottom of the eighth came a remarkable rally that almost never happened. Gino Cimoli singled to lead off, and Bill Virdon’s sharp grounder to Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek seemed destined to result in a double play—but the last hop took on a bit of extra energy and struck Kubek in the throat, leaving everyone safe but Kubek (who was taken to the hospital with a bruised larynx). With the rally jumpstarted, the Pirates piled up three more singles for two runs—and then took the lead when part-time catcher Hal Smith, an original Yankee who was too far down the depth chart to stay in New York, sailed a three-run shot over the left-field fence to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead.
Eighteen-game winner Bob Friend, who had relieved just one game in the past three years, was asked to come into the ninth inning to close out the Yankees. He couldn’t do it. The first two Yankees singled, and they both scored after the Pirates blew their own double play opportunity as first baseman Rocky Nelson fielded Yogi Berra’s sharp grounder hit right at him near the bag—but he couldn’t tag out an elusive Mickey Mantle, who never broke for second and alertly made it back to the first after Nelson retired Berra.
Leading off the bottom of the ninth against Ralph Terry—the fifth Yankee pitcher of the day—Bill Mazeroski didn’t take long to end the classic. On the second pitch, he launched a drive that cleared the 408-foot marker in left-center field to end the game with not so much a walk-off homer as it was a dance-off blast—windmilling his arms in celebration as he rounded the bases, gradually joined by ecstatic teammates and fans who began to litter onto the field. For the Pirates, it was their first world title in 35 years, and revenge for being crushed in their last Series appearance by the 1927 Yankees.
May 26, 1959: Twelve Innings of Perfection—And a Loss
Harvey Haddix came to the ballpark in Milwaukee tired and suffering from a small cold, but that didn’t stop him from going out to the mound and firing an unprecedented—and since unsurpassed—12 perfect innings against the high-powered Braves.
Problem was, he had to pitch a 13th inning.
For nine innings, Haddix didn’t allow a single runner to reach base, and that would have been good enough for the first perfect game seen in the National League since the turn of the century. But opposing pitcher Lew Burdette, though far from perfect, was sharp enough to keep the Pirates off the scoreboard as well. So the 0-0 game went overtime, and Haddix continued to sail along—registering 1-2-3 innings in the tenth, 11th and 12th to retire 36 straight batters from the start. Burdette, meanwhile, had allowed 12 hits but, still, no runs.
The perfect game came to an end—and the game itself to a bizarre conclusion—in the bottom of the 13th. The Braves’ Felix Mantilla hit a grounder to Pirates third baseman Dick Hoak—who rushed his throw to first and caused an error, tagging Haddix with his first baserunner of the game. After a sacrifice hit and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron to set up a possible double play, Joe Adcock slugged a shot just over the right-center field fence to win the game—but Aaron, who thought the ball had hit off the fence, reached second and went directly home to celebrate, not realizing he had to round the bases. Thus, Adcock accidentally passed him up at second on his way home. The umpires ultimately rewarded Mantilla with the game-winning run, declared Aaron out, reduced Adcock’s homer to a double and the final score from 3-0 to 1-0. Either way, it was a tough, luckless loss for Haddix.
October 17, 1979: Pops Leads the Family
Four games into the 1979 World Series, the positive vibes of the stirring regular season before had seemed to grind to a halt. On the morning of Game Five, the Pirates were a game away from elimination—and Pittsburgh manager Chuck Tanner received news that his mother had passed away. But the Pirates, a collection of talented players molded together as family by the team’s clubhouse leader and minister of sunshine Willie Stargell, fought back against the Orioles and forged a deciding seventh game in enemy territory at Baltimore.
In the deciding game, Rich Dauer’s leadoff home run in the third inning gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead, but in the sixth, Stargell—who had already doubled twice but failed to score—did it all himself by slamming a two-run home run over the right-field fence and outfielder Ken Singleton, whose dejected reaction seemed to presage the doom coming to the Orioles. The Pirates survived a major Oriole threat in the eighth when side-armed reliever Kent Tekulve—then one of the game’s best out of the bullpen—got star Oriole slugger Eddie Murray to fly out with the bags loaded to end the inning. In the ninth, the Bucs added two insurance runs—the latter tallied when Bill Robinson became the second straight batter hit by Oriole pitching, forcing in a run. Given breathing room, Tekulve pitched as if he didn’t need it, retiring the side in order to give the Pirates their second world title in nine seasons—and their last to date.
October 15, 1925: Slogging to Triumph
In a wild and sloppy seventh game of the 1925 World Series played in conditions more befitting for football, the Pirates outlasted an aging legend and claimed their second world title thanks to a disputed go-ahead hit in the bottom of the eighth.
The Pirates gift-wrapped a four-run first inning for the opposing Washington Senators, aiming to take their second straight championship, with two errors, two wild pitches, three walks and a case of catcher’s interference as starter Vic Aldridge could only retire one batter before getting the hook. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Pirates would now need to come back against the great Walter Johnson, a month shy of 38 but still in the 99 percentile of effectiveness among major league pitchers. But on this slough-like day, Johnson was not at his best, and the Pirates poked holes at him repeatedly with three runs in the third and one in the fifth to close the Senator lead to 6-4—then tying the game in the seventh in a rally capped by a Pie Traynor triple.
After Washington’s Roger Peckinpaugh unknotted the game with a solo homer in the eighth, the Pirates responded once more against Johnson, curiously left in and continuing to labor. The conditions had worsened; the skies were darkening and the rain intensifying, but Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, seated in the first row, ordered the teams to play on. The first two Pirates were retired, but then Earl Smith doubled, followed by a Carson Bigbee double and an Eddie Moore walk; the tying run came across when Max Carey (already with four hits including three doubles) reached on an error by Peckinpaugh—his record eighth of the Series. The dangerous Kiki Cuyler then sent a fly deep down the left-field line; it hit fair and bounced into the seats for a ground rule double, breaking the tie and giving the Pirates a 9-7 lead as the Senators vehemently complained that the ball hit foul. Washington’s ninth-inning attempt at a comeback fell on equally deaf ears, as Red Oldham retired the side in order and gave the Pirates the world title.
September 30, 1972: Roberto’s Last Hit
The night before the Pirates and Mets hooked up for the second of three games at Three Rivers Stadium, a crowd of 24,000 had showed up hoping to see the great Roberto Clemente, now 38, become the first Pirate to collect 3,000 hits exclusively for the franchise. He almost got it, but a questionable scoring decision on a bobbled grounder was ruled an error instead of a hit—sending the normally reserved Clemente to vocally blast away at the box score following the game.
Clemente was back in the lineup the next day and, before a much smaller gathering of 13,000, struck out in his first at-bat—then, in his second, lashed out a line drive off the Mets’ Jon Matlack that found its way to the left-center field wall for a double, making him the 11th major leaguer to reach 3,000. He then scored on a Manny Sanguillen single that opened the scoring for the Pirates, on their way to a 5-0 win. An inning later, Clemente was replaced by Mazeroski, who with Clemente were the only two players on both the 1960 and 1971 Pirates championship rosters.
The milestone hit by Clemente would be his last; he never came to bat in any of the Pirates’ three remaining games. Three months later, on New Year’s Eve, he was tragically killed when a plane bound for Nicaragua from his native Puerto Rico with earthquake relief supplies crashed into the Caribbean shortly after takeoff, leaving no survivors.
October 17, 1971: Overcoming the O’s
Like the 1979 World Series, the Pirates dug themselves a nasty hole against Baltimore in the 1971 Fall Classic, losing the first two games before bouncing off the canvas and taking the series to a seventh game at Baltimore. The odds were not with the Pirates; the home team had won each of the first six games.
Facing off against 20-game winner Mike Cuellar, the Pirates’ first 11 batters failed to reach base, but not the 12th; Clemente, having a sensational series, drew first blood with a solo home run (his second among five extra-base hits in the series) to give the Bucs the early lead. The Orioles could not counter against Pirates starter Steve Blass, in the midst of his second commanding series outing—and a few years shy of a sudden, shocking loss of command. In the eighth, the Pirates added what turned out to be critical insurance when Jose Pagan doubled home Stargell to up their lead to 2-0; the Orioles closed it to 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, but that was all the damage they could do on Blass, who would toss his second complete game of the series—both for wins.
October 1, 1903: The First World Series Win
In the season that the National and American Leagues made peace after several years of bitter fighting and player raids, the Pirates—winners of three straight NL pennants—made a proposition to the AL titlist, the Boston Americans: Let’s have a series to determine the best in baseball, period. The best-of-nine tourney would be the first championship series pairing the winners of rival leagues since 1890—and serve as the birth of the modern World Series.
An overflow crowd of 16,242 showed up to Boston’s Huntington Grounds to witness the first World Series game, or the “World’s Championship Games” as it was called on the program. The task for the Pirates would be difficult beyond the fact that they were playing on unfamiliar grounds; they’d be facing off against the AL’s premier pitcher in Cy Young, winner of 93 games through his first three seasons in the junior circuit. But after the first two batters of the game were retired, the next six reached base—no thanks to the Boston defense, which committed three errors. The Pirates added single runs in the third, fourth and seventh innings—the latter on an inside-the-park homer by Jimmy Sebring, giving the outfielder the special citation as the man with the first homer in Series history. Meanwhile, Pirates starting pitcher Deacon Phillippe—making his first of five starts in the series—held the Americans easily in check, only softening up late in the going but finishing the 7-3 win in what would ultimately end up as a series defeat for the Bucs, losing five games to three.
October 14, 1992: Dawn of the Dread
For the Pirates, refreshed and reloaded from the ashes of the depressing drug-fueled years of the mid-1980s, the 1992 NLCS against Atlanta was a hopeful case of the third time being the charm after losing in their previous two shots at the NL pennant from 1990-91. It was now or never for Pittsburgh; win or lose, they were all but certain to lose NL MVP Barry Bonds, ace pitcher Doug Drabek and solid infielder Jose Lind to free agency and enter a period of low-budget dormancy.
How close they would come.
Forcing Game Seven after falling behind in the series three games to one, the Pirates scored runs in the first and sixth innings at Atlanta to build a slight 2-0 lead for Drabek, who would shut the Braves down through eight innings on five hits. Staying on for the ninth, Drabek allowed a leadoff double to Terry Pendleton, then watched in horror as David Justice reached on an error by Lind. After walking Sid Bream, Drabek was replaced by closer Stan Belinda, who allowed one run to score on a sacrifice fly but then walked Damon Berryhill to load the bases—with Bream representing the game-winning run at second. With two outs, Belinda only had to punch out pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera, who had batted just ten times during the season. The underdog would prevail; Cabrera kncoked out a single to left, scoring Justice from third followed by the far-from-speedy Bream, who beat out Bonds’ throw from the outfield. The Braves won, the Pirates suffered a three-beat and the stars left, plunging the franchise into a record run of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
October 16, 1909: Oh, Babe!
The Detroit Tigers weren’t expecting a baby-faced rookie to turn their World Series hopes upside down, but the Pirates’ Babe Adams did just that in the first, fifth—and seventh—games of the 1909 World Series, helping to give the Bucs their first ever world title.
Legend has it that NL president John Heydler lobbied the Pirates hard to use Adams as much as possible in the World Series because his pitching style was said to be similar to Washington Senator pitcher Dolly Gray, who’d been giving the Tigers fits all year; it also didn’t hurt Heydler to remind the Bucs that Adams had excelled with a 12-3 record and fantastic 1.11 ERA in 25 appearances during the season. The Pirates listened and Adams proved Heydler right, stifling the Tigers in his first two starts. But with the winner-take-all matchup beckoning at Detroit, the Pirates went back to the well and Adams—who would throw on two days’ rest.
The Pirates broke the ice with two second-inning runs in which five batters reached base—none of them via a hit, as Tiger starting pitcher Wild Bill Donovan lived up to his name in the worst way by ultimately walking six Pirates in just three innings of work. It was all the offense the Bucs needed, but they piled it on anyway, making it 8-0 by the eighth inning on seven hits and ten walks. Adams gave the Tigers no chance to rebut, firing a six-hut shutout and becoming the first pitcher to win three World Series games in a best-of-seven sequence.
September 16, 1975: Stennett’s Seven
No, the wind wasn’t necessarily blowing out at Wrigley Field for just the Pirates as they completely took apart the Chicago Cubs, 22-0. It was just bad pitching—and Rennie Stennett was there to collect.
The 24-year-old second baseman born in the Panama Canal Zone led off the game with a double, then singled later in the same inning as the Pirates knocked starter Rick Reuschel out of the game with nine first-inning runs. Stennett singled again in the third, then performed a repeat of the first inning in the fifth—doubling to lead off, singling later in the inning as the Cubs tallied six more times to build the score up to 18-0. Already, Stennett had tied a major league mark with a pair of two-hit innings in the same game. But he wasn’t done for the day. He led off the seventh with a single for his sixth hit, and an inning later tripled to set a modern record with seven hits in a nine-inning game—managing the achievement even before being taken out of the game with an inning to spare. Thanks to Stennett, the Pirates set another all-time mark with the largest shutout victory.
Pittsburgh Pirates Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Pirates, decade by decade.
The Pirates' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Pirates' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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