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Pirates History

This Day in Pirates History: Cueto! Cueto! Cueto!

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It’s been a rough go of it in 2021 for the Pittsburgh Pirates as the team clinched their 100th loss of the season after getting blanked by the Chicago Cubs 9-0 on Thursday night. It’s been a lousy six-year stretch for the Pirates as the team has posted losing records in five of those seasons, with the lone winning season coming in 2018 (83-79).

Fans have become agitated by the decision making of the Pirates’ leaders, and the lack of the success on the field led to the Pirates cleaning house after the 2019 season. With the hires of a team president Travis Williams, new general manger Ben Cherington and new manager Derek Shelton, the Pirates have been in tear-down mode the last two years.

Rewind to this date eight years ago, and the Pirates were playing in one of their most memorable games in the franchise’s history.

The date was Oct. 1, 2013 and the Steel City was buzzing as the Pirates were preparing for their first playoff game in over two decades. The Pirates snapped their 20 year losing streak by going 94-68 and clinched home-field advantage in the National League Wild Card game against the division-rival Cincinnati Reds.

PNC Park was rocking – shaking in fact, and literally. The sea of black crowd of over 40,000 fans, the largest crowd in PNC Park’s history, was letting over 20 years of built up aggression and anticipation come out in the winner-take-all game. When the players came out pregame to do their on-field warmups, it sounded like somebody hit a go-ahead home run. When Pirates’ starter Francisco Liriano delivered the first pitch of the game, it sounded like he just recorded the final out.

Thanks to a Marlon Byrd home run, the Pirates carried a 1-0 lead in the second when something incredible happened. Whispers of a chant started, and as more and more fans caught on to what was being said, a chant so loud and somewhat eerie began to erupt. The crowd started chanting “Cueto, Cueto, Cueto,” over and over again in an effort to throw Reds’ starter Johnny Cueto off his game. The crazy thing about it? It worked. As he stood on the mound waiting to deliver a pitch to Russell Martin, Cueto dropped the baseball, much to the liking of the sellout crowd at PNC Park. The next pitch? Gone.

The crowd that was already maybe the loudest ever at PNC Park got even louder as they knew they had Cueto rattled. The Reds’ starter lasted only 3.1 innings as the Pirates kept on hitting. Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Byrd all went on to drive in runs and Martin blasted his second home run of the game in the seventh inning. That year’s MVP, Andrew McCutchen, had a pair of hits and reached base four times. Jason Grilli closed out the Pirates’ 6-2 victory and the Bucs booked a trip to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

That night created a memory that fans in attendance and those watching at home will never forget. The entire city rallied around their Pittsburgh Pirates.

While the Pirates lost three games to two in the NLDS to the Cardinals, that season was an unforgettable one in Pittsburgh. The Pirates snapped their franchise’s losing streak, returned to the playoffs and had the league MVP all in the same year. It reminded this city of what winning baseball looks like, and reminded the organization of what unwavering fan support entailed.

As eight years have now passed, the Pirates and their fans are hoping to create another memory like that. Playoff baseball in this city is special and it is something that fans have been itching for ever since the Pirates last played a playoff game in 2015. While it will feel surreal again when Pittsburgh finally reaches the postseason again, it will be hard to top the magic that happened eight years ago today.

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