Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker gave the Opening Day sell-out crowd at PNC Park a memory to cherish with his walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th to defeat the Chicago Cubs 1-0.
Monday’s game had been a pitching duel between the Cubs and Bucs for nine innings until Walker’s blast to deep right field, with Pittsburgh left-hander Francisco Liriano picking up where he left off in 2013.
The reigning National League comeback player of the year gave the Bucs six solid innings, scattering four hits, walking three and striking out 10 on 104 pitches.
The Shark Tank bullpen answered the call from from there, with Tony Watson handling the seventh; Mark Melancon the eighth, Jason Grilli the ninth and Bryan Morris in the 10th. Those four combined to give up only two hits and no runs. Morris picked up the win.
For Chicago, starting right-hander Jeff Samardzija held Pittsburgh to only five hits, with two walks and three strikeouts on 89 pitches. Samardzija beat the Bucs on Opening Day last year.
The Cubs bullpen sent Pedro Strop to the hill in the eighth while Justin Grimm and James Russell took care of the ninth. Then, it was righthander Carlos Villanueva who gave up the homer to Walker.
The last time the Pirates concluded a contest 1-0 at home with a walk-off homer in the 10th was back on Sept. 12, 1965, when Bob Gailey’s tenth inning shot gave them a 1-0 win over San Francisco at Forbes Field.
Monday’s contest also featured the first instant replay challenge in Major League Baseball history as Chicago manager Rick Renteria challenged a call that Samardzija was out in the top of the fifth inning at end of a double play. The initial call was confirmed.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle challenged a call in the top of the 10th after Emilio Bonifacio was called safe when Bryan Morris attempted to pick him off, and that call was overturned.
The Pirates faithful were 39,833 strong to raise the Jolly Roger, a new record for a regular-season game. In 2013, Pittsburgh had 39,173 fans came out on July 13 against the New York Mets, which set the previous mark.
The two teams will enjoy an off day on Tuesday. The second game of the three-game series with Chicago will be at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday. The Cubs will send Edwin Jackson (8-18, 4.98 ERA in 2013) to the hill while the Pirates will counter with right-hander Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26 ERA in 2013).
The 30-year-old Morton will be making his 2014 season debut on Wednesday night. He went 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA in four spring training starts. The game will be broadcast by ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.
From The Clipboard: Pittsburgh will honor Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner with a No. 4 patch on their uniform sleeves during the 2014 season. Kiner, who hit a club-record 54 home runs in 1949, ranks second on the club’s all-time home run list with 301. He passed away on Feb. 6 of this year at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif…The Pirates finished the Grapefruit League circuit with 15 wins, their highest total since their 17 victories in 2009.