Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Pirates hoping for another Home Opener Hero
Whether it’s a leadoff or walk-off, a solo shot, two in two at-bats or a grand slam, there is something special about the home team hitting a home run at the home opener.
The Pittsburgh Pirates hope to find their next Home Opener Hero when they host the St. Louis Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. on Monday. Here are five memorable home-opener homers at PNC Park:
1. Leading off: Josh Harrison drove the first pitch by Anibal Sanchez over the center-field wall in a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers in 2015.
It marked the first leadoff homer in a home opener at PNC Park, the first of its kind for the Pirates since R.J. Reynolds took Dwight Gooden deep in 1986 at Three Rivers Stadium.
The best part is that Harrison wasn’t finished. He had two hits, scored two runs and, after closer Mark Melancon allowed three runs in the ninth, fielded a Nick Castellanos shot to start a 5-4-3 double play to help preserve the win.
2. Walk-off Walker: The 2014 home opener marked a ceremonial presentation by former Pirates MVPs Dick Groat and Barry Bonds to 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen.
It also involved the first instant-replay challenge in MLB history, as Chicago Cubs rookie manager Rick Renteria contested a 1-5-3 double-play call that forced pitcher Jeff Samardzija at first base. It took only 90 seconds for umpire John Hirschbeck to signal him out.
Through nine-plus innings, however, the game was a scoreless tie.
Then, in the bottom of the 10th, Pine-Richland graduate Neil Walker came to the plate. Walker was no stranger to Opening Day heroics against the Cubs, having hit a grand slam off Ryan Dempster in 2011 at Wrigley Field.
This time, Walker homered off Carlos Villanueva for the 1-0 victory, the first walk-off homer in a Pirates opener since Bob Bailey hit one off Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal in 1965 at Forbes Field.
3. Flying solo: From 1994 through 2001, the Pirates lost the home opener every year.
That eight-year stretch ended with a 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in 2002, when the Pirates scored the lone run in the sixth inning after Brian Giles reached third on an Elmer Dessens balk and scored on an Aramis Ramirez sacrifice fly.
The following year, Jason Kendall became the first Pirate to homer in the home opener — Reds first baseman Sean Casey of Upper St. Clair holds the distinction of being the first player to hit a home run at PNC Park — in a 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The first Pirate to hit a homer in an opening-day victory was Craig Wilson, who delivered the winner with a one-out shot to right off Kevin Milwood in the sixth inning of a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in 2004.
4. Two for two: When Garrett Jones hit 21 home runs in 82 games as a 28-year-old rookie in 2009, everyone wondered what the first baseman-right fielder would do in a full season in the majors.
We didn’t have to wait long.
In the bottom of the first of the 2010 home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jones crushed a two-run shot off Vicente Padilla that spanned 456 feet and bounced into the Allegheny River.
When Jones went opposite field, hitting one down the left-field line for a 3-2 lead in the third inning of the 11-5 victory, he was serenaded with chants of “MVP-MVP!” by Pirates fans.
5. Smashing debut: Colin Moran was the centerpiece of the Gerrit Cole trade to the Houston Astros, a left-handed bat who was handed the starting job at third base.
But Moran never homered in spring training and was batting .111 through the first two games of last season.
That changed in the bottom of the first.
With a full count, two outs and the bases loaded, Moran sent a Lance Lynn fastball on a 405-foot ride over the Clemente Wall and into the right-field seats for a 5-0 lead over the Minnesota Twins.
Moran joined a pair of Pirates legends in Ralph Kiner (1946) and Roberto Clemente (1962) to hit a grand slam in the home opener.
The PNC Park crowd of 30,186 — the smallest for an opener since 1982 — went wild when the low-key Moran stepped out of the home dugout for a curtain call.
Moran only hit 10 more home runs — that included another grand slam, against the San Diego Padres in July — so the Grand Slam Moran nickname didn’t stick.
But he forever will be a Home Opener Hero.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .