Top 20 moments in PNC Park history: 20-16
By Joe Smeltzer
The 20th season of PNC Park should have been celebrated last year, and since the season ended up taking place, I guess, in a way, it did.
Since there were no fans and the season was the most screwed-up baseball ever has (and hopefully ever will) see, I don’t count it. Besides, PNC Park opened in 2001, and it is now 2021. I’m no Einstein, but I think that equals 20 years.
With the 20th anniversary of PNC Park coming up, as well as the 20th season with fans, it’s time we list the 20 greatest moments in stadium history thus far.
I was born in 1998, and my family has had Pirates season tickets since 1994. Until 2007, we had a full 81-game plan, and have had a 40-game plan ever since. I’m trying not to make this list about myself, so I won’t point out every moment that I witnessed on this list, but I was on-hand for quite a few of them. Some children take to singing at an early age. Some can dance. Others can play instruments or are athletically gifted.
Aside from being a semi-decent singer, I couldn’t do any of those things. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer yet and certainly didn’t have experience in radio or TV broadcasting. What I could do, and all I wanted to do with my summers were watch Chris Stynes bat with one foot out of the box, Josh Fogg give up six runs over four innings and Abraham Nunez be the best Abraham Nunez he could be.
As bad as the Pirates have been for 85% of PNC’s existence, it was still hard to think this through. With every baseball season being so long, something cool is going to happen at some point in a given year, whether the home team is the ’27 Yankees or the ’62 Mets. The Pirates have had plenty of terrible baseball teams over the past two decades (and a few good ones,) but one thing that’s been a constant is that every season has, at least for a moment, given us something great.
Not every year in PNC’s history will be represented on this list, but plenty of moments from forgettable seasons will be. Starting with No’s 20-16, this four-part series will detail what I feel are the top 20 moments in the history of PNC Park.
20. The first opening day
April 9, 2001
The game itself wasn’t memorable; the Reds pounded the Pirates, 8-2. The season that followed turned into, record-wise, one of the worst in Pirates’ history. Nonetheless, April 9, 2001, was a big day for Pittsburgh baseball. It was also somber due to the death of Willie Stargell. The Pirates have gone on to lose a lot of games over the past two decades. At least nobody can say they play in a crappy stadium.
19. Ritchie almost makes history
Through 20 seasons, no Pirates pitcher has ever thrown a no-hitter. The closest anybody ever came was in year one.
Todd Ritchie didn’t have a great career. He came into the major leagues at 25, was out of baseball at 32 and didn’t turn anybody’s head in between. On July 13, 2001, however, he was good.
Like, almost historically good.
Usually, it would have been a forgettable night of baseball on the North Shore. The Pirates were on their way to losing 100 games, and the Royals only lost 97. It was also Friday the 13th, and nothing good usually happens Friday the 13th.
A lot of good things happened to Ritchie on this night. He entered the top of the ninth inning on the verge of history.
With one out, Ritchie lost his no-hitter, giving up a single to Luis Alicea. That was disappointing, but it would have been even worse if the Pirates ended up losing the game, which, at still 0-0, was still a strong possibility.
Ritchie got out of the frame with a double-play one batter later. In the bottom half, the Pirates made sure Ritchie’s efforts didn’t go to waste, winning the game on an Aramis Ramirez single.
Someday, a Pirates pitcher will throw a no-hitter at PNC Park. It might be this upcoming season. It might be in 2065, but it will happen. Until then, however, Ritchie’s performance is the closest thing.
18. Replay walk-off
When something that previously never happened in baseball history happens at PNC Park, it deserves to be on this list.
MLB expanded instant replay before the 2014 season, and, as expected, it made an immediate impact on the sport.
Through May 5, however, no game had ever ended on a replay reversal.
There’s a first time for everything, and the first time for this happened on Federal Street.
With two outs, none on and the game tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Starling Marte drove a 1-2 pitch from Tim Hudson off the Roberto Clemente wall. The swift Marte made his way to third, where Edhire Adrianaza’s relay got past Pablo Sandoval. After a brief hesitation, Marte broke for the plate, where he was thrown out, thus sending the game into extra innings.
Not so fast.
Replays appeared to show that Marte slid under Buster Posey’s tag. New York agreed and reversed the call, giving the Pirates a 2-1 win.
The Giants beat the Bucs in a much more important game at PNC that October. That game didn’t make this list.
You didn’t expect a list about Pirates baseball between 2001 and 2020 to be entirely positive, did you? Well, it’s mostly positive, but the worst loss in team history happened at PNC Park. The score says it all. For those who feel like torturing themselves today, here are the highlights. Also, notice a 40-year-old Jim Edmonds hitting a ball into McKeesport.
Blowouts work both ways, even for the 2000s Pirates. June 10-12, 2005, the Bucs hosted one of the few teams just as bad as them when the Tampa Bay (formerly) Devil Rays came to town for a weekend series.
The Pirates won Friday’s game easily, 7-2.
Saturday night’s game was a slaughter. The three-headed monster of Daryle Ward, Ryan Doumit and the late Jose Castillo combined to drive in 12 of those runs. All of this went on as I celebrated my cousin’s wedding as the best-looking ring bearer in the business.
It’s still the most lopsided home win in PNC Park history. It also got the Bucs to 30-30, a significant milestone amid the 13th of 20 straight losing seasons. The Pirates went 37-65 the rest of the way.
Stay tuned for Part II
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