The night of October 1, 2013 was an unforgettable one for Pirates fans. The wait for playoff baseball in the city of Pittsburgh was long overdue. The city was starved for team success. On this night, 20 years of pent up losing frustration by the fans was exploded into one game. From the pregame introductions to the postgame fireworks, PNC Park was rocking. It was the National League Wild Card Game. The Pittsburgh Pirates hosted the Cincinnati Reds.
The Game Itself
Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was electric for much of this game. Although fans in the stadium were infinitely excited to witness playoff baseball, they were equally as nervous. The veteran southpaw calmed those nerves early with a 1-2-3 top of the first inning. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth. Liriano simply had ice in his veins as he calmly carved up the Reds lineup as the night went on.
In the bottom of the second, Marlon Byrd led off the inning with a solo home run off of Johnny Cueto. The crowd erupted. More importantly, whatever tension they felt was erased. Two batters later, Russell Martin stepped up to the plate in what ended up being the iconic moment in this game.
I had never witnessed anything like this in a baseball game. Of course, chants and cheers are a huge part of attending sporting events, but this was different. The 40,000+ in attendance came together as one amplifying energy to thunder down onto one specific player, using his name to do it.
The chant got louder and louder as the at-bat went on. With a 2-1 count, Cueto stood towards the back of the mound, rubbing the ball to better his grip. At this point, he could hear his name ringing throughout the entire stadium.
Cueto then dropped the ball.
He was rattled. At that point, the crowd roared so loudly that it was difficult to hear the announcers on the television broadcast. On the very next pitch, Martin turned on a fastball thrown down the middle of the plate for a home run to left field. The Pirates led 2-0.
Cueto heard his name being chanted for the rest of his outing. The Pirates tacked on another run in the third inning thanks to a Pedro Alvarez sac fly and Cueto was eventually bounced in the fourth. In total, he gave up four earned runs on eight hits. He did not record a strikeout and walked one. After dominating the Pirates in the regular season (only one run allowed over 12.1 innings), this was not his night.
The Reds threatened to make it a game in the top of the fourth inning. With men on first and second and two outs, Jay Bruce knocked an RBI single to left field to cut the lead to 3-1. Todd Frazier was next. During this at-bat, he hit a foul ball down the left-field line with home run distance. Unfortunately for the Reds, the ball hooked a few feet left of the foul pole. This would have given the Reds a 4-3 lead. Frazier struck out on the next pitch.
The Pirates would cruise from there. After a pair of doubles from Starling Marte and Neil Walker in the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates led 4-1. Two walks and a groundout later, they tacked on a fifth run. That was more than enough run support for Liriano. In total, he went seven innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out five and walked one.
Martin added his second solo home run of the night in the bottom of the seventh. Shin-Soo Choo clubbed a solo shot for the Reds in the top of the eighth to make the score 6-2. That would be the final as Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli set down the Reds in order in the ninth inning.
Pittsburgh’s faithful cheered joyfully. After two decades of enduring endless defeat, this was their night.
The Reds have not been back to the playoffs since this game. They haven’t even had a winning record. The only remaining Red from this game on the current roster is Joey Votto. After making the playoffs in 2010 and 2012, 2013 was the last hope for this Reds team. Unfortunately for them, their window was slammed shut.
Thankfully for Cueto, this was not a “he was never the same after this happened” type of game. The following season, he finished second in Cy Young voting. The season after, he found playoff success winning a World Series with the Kansas City Royals.
The Pirates would go on to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, squandering a 2-1 series lead. There are no remaining players from the 2013 squad on the current team. Marte, who was the last remaining guy, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter. In 2014, the Pirates returned to the Wild Card Game. This time, fate was not on their side as they were shutout by Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants in an 8-0 laugher. In 2015, the Pirates were shutout in the Wild Card Game again, this time to Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs (4-0).
Unfortunately for them, they have been irrelevant ever since.