By Jason Shetler
As we get ready to approach the new year, let’s look back at the Top 10 Pirates moments of 2015.
10. Pedro Alvarez’s riverboat home run: Over the course of his career, Pedro Alvarez has hit his share of mammoth, tape measure home runs, and perhaps his most impressive came on May 19th against the Minnesota Twins. Alvarez blasted a solo homer off Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, which not only cleared PNC Park’s right field porch, but also landed in a riverboat on the fly.
9. Jung Ho-Kang’s first MLB homer: Like with any rookie, you always want to keep track of his first accomplishments, most notably his first home run in the big leagues. Jung-Ho Kang’s first long ball came in dramatic fashion on May 3rd against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was hit off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, which had tied the game 2-2 in the ninth. The Pirates lost the game however by a score of 3-2 in 14 innings.
8. Pirates turn a triple play: For the second year in a row, the Pirates were able to turn a triple play at PNC Park. The second one came off the St. Louis Cardinals on May 8th. With Vance Worley on the mound, Yadier Molina hit a liner to Neil Walker for the first out, which was followed by a throw to Jung-Ho Kang for the second out, and back to Walker for out number three. The 4-5-4 triple play would end up being the first of its kind in Major League history.
7. Mark Melancon saves 50: Mark Melancon entered the 2015 season as the Pirates closer. Things didn’t look promising for him, as he really scuffled in April. Melancon however was lights out the rest of the way. He would go on to surpass Mike Williams’ single season saves record by a Pirates closer with 47. Melancon became the first closer in franchise history to record 50 saves in a season, doing so against the Colorado Rockies on September 24th.
6. A.J. Burnett’s final start: In 2012 and 2013, A.J. Burnett became the ace of the Pirates staff, and really embraced the city of Pittsburgh in the process. Prior to 2014, Burnett had told the Pirates he would retire, if he didn’t re-sign. Pirates fans were very upset after finding out that he had signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Burnett decided to decline his 2015 option with the Phillies, so he could sign with the Pirates for less. As expected, he bounced back this year. So much so that he was named an All-Star for the first time. Just like Burnett embraced the Pirates, Pittsburgh embraced him back by flashing the Batman logos with lights on the buildings across from PNC Park in his final start on October 3rd against the Cincinnati Reds.
5. Starling Marte’s defensive dandies: Starling Marte was the best defensive left fielder in baseball during the 2015 season. His defensive efforts against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark on July 31st was simply amazing. The Pirates were leading 5-4 in the ninth, and with one man out, Mark Melancon gave up a base hit to Todd Frazier. With Brandon Phillips rounding third base, Marte threw a rifle to home plate to nail Phillips for the second out. Marlon Byrd hit a solid line drive to the outfield, but Marte would lay out to make the catch for the final out, and put on arguably the best single game defensive performance in 2015.
4. Gregory Polanco’s walkoff single: The Pirates took on the St. Louis Cardinals in Pittsburgh on July 12th, which was televised on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, and was the last game before the All-Star break. The Cardinals had a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Trevor Rosenthal was looking to shut the door, but the Bucco bats had other ideas, as they tied the game 5-5 after a Francisco Cervelli RBI single. With Jung-Ho Kang at third, a struggling Gregory Polanco stepped to the plate and delivered the game-winning RBI to give the Pirates a 6-5 win. You could argue that the hit turned Polanco’s season around.
3. Pedro Florimon’s walkoff triple: Throughout the course of a season, a contending team will have things go there way, even from the unlikiest of heroes. On August 18th, the Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks were tied 8-8 in the 15th inning. With Francisco Cervelli on first, the light-hitting Pedro Florimon came through with a game-winning RBI triple off rookie left-hander Keith Hessler to give the Bucs a wild 9-8 victory.
2. Andrew McCutchen’s walkoff homer: On July 11th, the Pirates and Cardinals were the featured Saturday game on FOX. Questionable calls from home plate umpire Vic Carapazza had been going against the Pirates seemingly all night long. The biggest was a strikeout on Mark Reynolds from A.J. Burnett that Carapazza ruled a “foul tip”. The next pitch was a solo home run by Reynolds to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. This led to Francisco Cervelli getting ejected. The game was tied 3-3 heading into extras. Mark Reynolds homered again to give the Red Birds a 4-3 advantage in the tenth. The Pirates would strike back with a Chris Stewart RBI single. With the game nodded 4-4 in the 14th, Jhonny Peralta drove in the go-ahead RBI single to give the Cardinals a 5-4 lead. Following a Neil Walker leadoff single, Andrew McCutchen rose to the occasion, as he delivered the biggest home run of his career, a two-run walkoff homer off Nick Greenwood to give the Pirates a 6-5 win in the 14th.
1. Pirates clinch third consecutive playoff appearance: After enduring 20 straight losing seasons, the Pirates all of a sudden are making playoff appearances look like an art form. The Bucs were able to punch their playoff ticket for a third consecutive year after a 13-7 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 23rd.