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10 Years Ago: Neil Walker Gives Pirates Memorable Opener



Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates

Friday is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2024 home opener. They’ll take on the reigning American East champion Baltimore Orioles at PNC Park at 4:12 ET.

A home opener is always an exciting time — for players, coaches and especially the fans. The Pirates are expecting another sellout crowd for this year’s first game in Pittsburgh.

10 years ago, in front of another sellout crowd, the Pirates had one of the more memorable home openers in franchise history.

There was quite a buzz in the ballpark that day on Mar. 31, 2014, Major League Baseball’s opening day. The Pirates were coming off of their first playoff appearance in over two decades. They didn’t know it at the time, but ‘Buctober’ would repeat six months later.

The first memorable moment of the afternoon started pregame. Andrew McCutchen, who was named the 2013 National League MVP, received his prestigious award from former Pirates’ MVPs Dick Groat and Barry Bonds. Clint Hurdle received his Manager of the Year award from Hall of Famer Jim Leyland, and Pedro Alvarez received his Silver Slugger from Jack Wilson.

The pregame festivities made way to first pitch, and the matchup between the Pirates and Chicago Cubs turned into an epic pitchers’ duel.

Francisco Liriano was the Pirates’ starter and pitched six impeccable innings. The veteran left-hander didn’t allow a run and struck out 10.

Liriano went toe-to-toe with Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, who worked seven-scoreless innings.

Each team’s bullpen was equally as good. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli kept things scoreless through nine innings. Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and James Russell ensured the game would have to be settled in extra frames.

After Bryan Morris tossed a scoreless top of the 10th inning, the Pirates came to bat looking to push across the first run of the game and send their fans home happy.

Pittsburgh-native Neil Walker led off the extra frame for the Pirates against right-hander Carlos Villanueva. An eight-pitch battle ensued.

On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Walker whacked a 3-2 pitch up in the zone over the Clemente Wall in right field to give the Pirates a 1-0 victory on the walk-off blast. 39,833 fans celebrated in the stands as Walker circled the bases before he was mobbed by teammates at home plate. It was the first-career walk-off homer for Walker.

The Pirates went on to finish the season 88-74, good for second place in the division and enough to earn the top Wild Card spot in the National League. The Pirates fell to the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card game on Oct. 1. San Francisco went on to win their third World Series in a five-year stretch.

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