Top 20 moments in PNC Park history: 15-11

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.

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. The four-part series started with No’s 20-16, and now continues with No’s 15-11. Here we go.

15. All aboard the Cole Train

June 11, 2013

There have been plenty of hyped-up debuts in PNC Park’s history. Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Jameson Taillon all come to mind. Nobody, however, has had a debut quite like Gerrit Cole’s in 2013.

After multiple injuries to the big team’s rotation, the Pirates’ No. 1 overall draft choice from two years before he got the call in early June. His first start took place June 11 against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

He struck out the first batter he faced, Gregor Blanco, on a 99-mph fastball, and that set the tone. The rookie more than held his own, giving up just two runs over 6 1-3 innings, but his debut is probably best known for what he did in his first at-bat.

With the game still scoreless in the second, the Pirates loaded the bases with one out for Cole. As everybody expected, he sawed off a two-run single into centerfield to put the Pirates ahead 2-0.

The night wasn’t perfect. Plenty of paying customers missed first pitch due to issues with a new security measure at PNC Park. Nonetheless, it was one of the best nights of the most magnificent summer in PNC’s history.

14. Bailey’s no-no

Sept. 28, 2012

It took almost 12 seasons, but a no-hitter finally took place at PNC Park in September of 2012. Alas, it was a Cincinnati Red, not a Pirate, who made history.

Just like so many others, this night at the ballpark was supposed to be mundane. The Reds had already clinched the NL Central. The Pirates were on the verge of their 20th of 20 straight losing seasons.

It turned out to be anything but boring. Going into the last of the ninth, the Pirates were down 1-0, but the outcome was secondary. All anybody cared about was whether or not the Pirates could manage a hit.

I was in the stadium, and even though the Pirates were only down a run, anybody who wasn’t rooting for Bailey in the ninth, eighth or even the seventh inning is lying.

With the Murderers’ Row of Brock Holt, Michael McKenry and Alex Presley due up, Bailey set down the first two and then got Presley to pop up, making history.

One day, a Pirate pitcher will throw a no-no in front of the hometown fans. Until then, this will have to do.

13. Jay-Hay ruins it for Hill

Aug. 23, 2017

Ok, so there have actually been two nine-inning no-hitters at PNC Park, but baseball doesn’t recognize the second one.

Rich Hill of the LA Dodgers took a perfect game into the last of the ninth before first baseman Logan Forsythe ruined it with an error. Hill bared down, however, and got through the inning with the no-hitter still intact.

The problem was, his team couldn’t score, so the game preceded into extras. Dave Roberts sent Hill out for the 10th, and Josh Harrison ended the no-hitter, and the game, with a little 347 ft. home run over the left field wall.

No-hitters happen somewhere every year, but losing a no-no on a walk-off home run is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

12. Go Freddy Go!

Sept. 29-Oct.1, 2006

Freddy Sanchez is one of the more popular Pirates of the 21st century to this point, but he was by no means a superstar.

Over the final weekend of the 2006 season, however, the city treated him like a king and with good reason.

At the start of the season, Sanchez was merely a capable utility player, playing second-fiddle to a 37-year-old and soon-to-be-retired Joe Randa at third base. By October, he was in a battle with a young Marlin named Miguel Cabrera for the National League Batting Title. Coming into the final three games, neither the Pirates nor the Reds had anything to play for, so the weekend was all about Freddy.

Signs that said “Go Freddy Go” flooded PNC Park, and the video board read the same message whenever Sanchez stepped into the batter’s box. After Sanchez went 2-8 combined Friday and Saturday, the race still had no winner. On that final Sunday, Sanchez went 2-4 in a 1-0 win over the Reds and finished five points ahead of Cabrera, becoming the first Pirate since Bill Madlock in 1983 to win the batting crown.

Sanchez had a few good years left in him, making the All-Star team in two of his final three seasons with the Pirates. He never stood taller, however, than he did at the end of 2006.

11. All-Star Festivities

July 9-11, 2006

Oh, to be eight again. Summertime was here. My biggest day-to-day worries revolved around whether or not my PlayStation was working. “Big Boy problems” were foreign to me, and best of all, the All-Star Game was coming to town.

I don’t know the “Mid-Summer Classic” will come back to Pittsburgh. Maybe I’ll still be living here. Maybe not. I might be covering it for my employer. I might not be. What I know, however, is that the next All-Star Game this city hosts won’t give me the joy I felt as an 8-year-old. When ballplayers were superheroes, and life was a summer breeze.

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