By Jason Shetler
After reaching the postseason for three consecutive years, the Pirates were unable to make the playoffs this season. While this year was certainly a disappointment, it still provided some noteworthy moments. Here now is a countdown of the ten best Pirates moments of 2016.
10. Erik Kratz homers off Madison Bumgarner: After being called up to the Pirates in 2010, Erik Kratz returned to Pittsburgh this year when he was acquired in June from the Los Angeles Angels, following an injury to Francisco Cervelli. The Pirates took on the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on June 20th. In the fifth inning, Kratz homered off one of baseball’s best starters in Madison Bumgarner. The home run wound up being the eventual game winner, as the Bucs were victorious 1-0.
9. Josh Harrison’s walkoff little league homer: The Pirates hosted the Milwaukee Brewers on July 19th. The game was tied 2-2 after a Mark Melancon blown save opportunity. Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the ninth and hit a ball into the gap that went for a triple. The ball then made it’s way out of play and Harrison was awarded home for the winning run.
8. Starling Marte’s first grand slam: On April 8th, the Pirates played their first road game of the year in Cincinnati. Trailing 5-2 in the eighth, Starling Marte stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Pirates broadcaster Joe Block boldly predicted that Marte’s first career grand slam was going to happen. With one swing of the bat, Marte drove it over the wall off Reds reliever J.J. Hoover for the go-ahead granny and a 6-5 Pirates win.
7. Jeff Locke’s complete game shutout: Perhaps the most polarizing player on the Pirates this year was Jeff Locke, mainly because of his inconsistencies driving fans absolutely crazy. Although 2016 was yet another mediocre year for Locke, he had himself an outing to remember on May 30th in Miami. Locke went the distance in a three hit shutout against the Marlins, while not allowing a walk. Of the 105 pitches he threw, 67 were for strikes. Locke became the first Pirates left-hander to toss a complete game shutout since Paul Maholm in 2011.
6. Jacob Stallings’ walkoff single: Injuries played a huge role to the Pirates catching depth this year. So much so that Jacob Stallings, an organizational catcher, was briefly called up to the Bucs in June. With Chris Stewart and Elias Diaz being shutdown in September, Stallings rejoined the big club. He would go on to play the role of unlikely hero on September 23rd against the Washington Nationals, as he delivered a game-winning RBI single off Yusmeiro Petit to give the Pirates a 6-5 victory in 11 innings.
5. Trevor Williams’ emotional big league debut: Following the loss of pitching guru Jim Benedict to the Miami Marlins last offseason, the Pirates obtained prospect Trevor Williams from the Marlins as compensation. Williams pitched extremely well in 2016 for AAA Indianapolis, and was given a much deserved September call up. On September 7th, Williams made his Major League debut with the Pirates in relief. He went three innings and gave up an unearned run. The Pirates defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 and Williams picked up the victory in his debut. Afterwards, he handed the official game ball to his dad. The two embraced in one of the more emotional moments in the history of PNC Park.
4. Chad Kuhl’s first big league win: Most pitchers who make their Major League debut are typically put into a situation where there’s not a ton of pressure. That logic was the complete opposite for Chad Kuhl. The Pirates brought up Kuhl to make his big league debut on June 26th versus Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park. To add the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae for Kuhl, the game was nationally televised on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Despite Kuhl going just five innings, the Pirates were 4-3 winners, and in the process, Kuhl outdueled arguably the game’s best starter for his first MLB win.
3. John Jaso hits for the cycle: The Pirates took on the Chicago Cubs in their final home series of 2016. In the third game of the series, John Jaso got the start at first base. Jaso’s first three at-bats was a single, a home run and a double, all of which came off Jake Arrieta. His fourth AB was against Pedro Strop. The result was a triple to finish off the cycle. Jaso’s cycle was just the 24th in club history. He became the first Pirate to complete a cycle since Daryle Ward in 2004, and the first player to accomplish the feat at PNC Park.
2. Andrew McCutchen’s three homer game: During his rookie season in 2009, Andrew McCutchen’s first impressive accolade was hitting three home runs in a game. On April 26th in Colorado, he pulled off the feat again. McCutchen homered in his first two at-bats against Rockies southpaw Jorge De La Rosa. His third homer came in the sixth inning off Christian Bergman. McCutchen’s three long balls resulted in a five RBI game, which was his first since 2011.
1. Josh Bell’s first big league homer: When the Pirates drafted Josh Bell in 2011, he was considered a very difficult sign. Despite the naysayers, and there were many, the Bucs inked him to a signing bonus worth $5 million. Bell entered 2016 as the third best prospect in the Pirates system. After collecting his first Major League hit as a pinch-hitter against the Chicago Cubs on July 8th, he topped that moment the following night. In front of a sold out crowd at PNC Park, which was also nationally televised on FOX, Bell blasted his first big league home run on a pinch-hit grand slam off reliever Adam Warren to help give the Pirates a 12-6 win.