Walker walk-off homer gives Pirates Opening Day victory over Cubs
The last time the Pirates opened a season after a playoff appearance, they moved forward without a National League MVP and a staff ace as Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek departed for bigger dollars in bigger markets. Twenty consecutive losing seasons followed.
The 2014 Pirates have greater expectations and return keystones in reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen, ace Francisco Liriano, and Opening Day star Neil Walker.
More than anyone in the clubhouse it is Walker, the Pine-Richland High grad, who understands where the Pirates have been and how important it is they do not return there this summer. Walker launched a Carlos Villanueva changeup over the Clemente Wall in the 10th inning Monday for his first career walk-off hit, and Liriano and the bullpen picked up where they left off in leading the Pirates to a 1-0 victory over the Cubs.
The home run was Walker's first walk-off hit since he was in Triple-A. It also was the second walk-off homer in a 1-0 Opening Day victory in major league history. The Pirates' Bob Bailey hit the other one April 12, 1965, off the Giants' Juan Marichal.
“This one feels pretty special. This was a special day for this team and this organization. We've come a long way,” Walker said. “The last 20 years have been a tough thing. To get to where we are now it is pretty amazing. … The excitement in the ballpark, the pregame ceremonies, Frankie going out there and pitching a great game, it kind of felt like a rollover from last year.”
Liriano pitched like he was rolling over his 2013. He became the fourth Pirate to strike out 10 in an Opening Day start, tying a club record. Liriano's off-speed pitches were dominant as nine of his 10 strikeouts came via slider or changeup.
Anthony Rizzo faced Liriano three times and struck out three times, swinging over the top of hard-biting sliders on each occasion. Mike Olt saw three straight changeups in the fourth and swung and missed three consecutive times.
Perhaps the only critiques of Liriano were his fastball command — only 10 of 24 first-pitches were strikes — and often he used his off-speed pitches. After throwing fastballs 41 percent of the time last year, Liriano vowed to be more fastball focused this spring. But on Monday, only 45 of Liriano's 104 pitches were fastballs.
“I'm trying to go deeper into games. That's why I want to throw more fastballs. I'm still working on it,” Liriano said. “Every time I go out there, I want to compete with whatever is working that day.”
Liriano's first trouble did not come until the fifth when Nate Schierholtz singled and Darwin Barney walked. Jeff Samardzija attempted a sacrifice bunt, but Liriano got the lead runner to start a rare 1-5-4 double play. Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged the play, contending that Samardzija was safe at first. The call was upheld. It was the first regular-season play to be challenged in major league history.
In the 10th inning, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made his first challenge. He won as an on-the-field call was reversed. One the play, the Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio was ruled to have been picked off by a Bryan Morris throw.
While Liriano was dominant, so was Samardzija.
A year after dominating the Pirates in a Cubs' Opening Day win, the hard-throwing right-hander shut out the Pirates over seven innings.
While Liriano and Samardzija matched scoreless frames, the Pirates bullpen was superior. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli — who topped out at 95 mph — and Morris combined for four shutout innings, a familiar formula from a year ago.
“We won a lot of one-run games last year,” Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. “We're kind of picking up where we left off.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Unsung backups provide boost for Steelers defensive line
- Penguins lose hard-fought game to Blue Jackets in overtime
- Former Pirates pitcher Happ agrees to $36 million, 3-year deal with Blue Jays
- Starkey: Flashback Friday for Pitt
- Pitt falls flat in finale loss to Miami
- Body found in Allegheny River in Harrison
- Unabashed church pastors put politics front and center
- Contractor eyes early finish to work on New Stanton interchange of Interstate 70
- Gilbert, son of ex-Pitt football standout, commits to Panthers
- Run game needed for balance vs. Seahawks
- Police: 3 killed, 9 wounded in attack at Colorado Planned Parenthood