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A Countdown Of The 14 Most Exciting Games From The First Half Of The Pittsburgh Pirates' 2014 Season

With the first 81 games recorded in the books, it is a great time to look back on the most jaw-dropping moments from the Pirates' season so far.

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14. Game 44 - Pirates get first win at Yankee Stadium since 1960 World Series

Admittedly, this game was not exceptionally exciting; its historical significance, however, helped this win make the list. With losses from both of the first two games in the three game series, it appeared as if, once again, the Pirates would fail to take home a "W" from Yankee Stadium. After game two of the series was postponed for weather, the game was rescheduled in the form of a double header for the following Sunday. With Gerrit Cole on the mound, the Pirates had a solid chance for victory, and luckily, the offense came through for him. Josh Harrison and Starling Marte helped out with one and two-run home runs respectively. Harrison was making up for an earlier, inning-ending blunder when he was caught between second and third in a rundown after launching a double off of the left-field wall. He also made a fantastic defensive play in left field when he snagged a line-drive in Superman style. The Pirates walked away with a series loss, but ultimately, the 5-3 win in the final game of the series ended a 54 year win-less streak at Yankee ballparks.

13. Game 73 - Russell Martin's Walk-Off Walk, Polanco Breaks Record

Yet another blown save by Jason Grilli allowed this game to go into extra innings - 12 to be exact. The final inning, was not pretty, but it got the job done. With one out after Cutch popped up to centerfield, Gaby Sanchez reached first on a single. Shortly thereafter, he arrived at second on a balk (coincidentally, the second of the game, the first of which scored a run) while Harrison was batting. Harrison was then intentionally walked to induce the force out. Things were looking bleak for the Bucs after Jordy Mercer was called out on a foul-tip, and Clint Barmes was the last hope. Bases were loaded, however, when Barmes was hit by a pitch. Russell Martin found himself in a 3-1 count and resisted swinging at the borderline fifth pitch to walk in the winning run. Although not the most exciting of the many walk-off wins of the 2014 season, a walk-off is still a walk-off, and a win is still a win.

What else made this game special? Gregory Polanco was able to extend his hitting streak to nine games, causing him to become the first Bucco in history to start his Major League career off with a streak that long, beating out other notables like Zip Collins, Spencer Adams, and of course, Roberto Clemente.

Check out the insanity

12. Game 19 - Easter Sunday, Brewers Brawl

Easter Sunday - a day of joy, peace, and reverence - presumably. The Buccos and the Brewers skipped the egg painting and prayer and decided to enter into a bench-clearing brawl to celebrate instead. What was the spark to get this fire blazing? With Gerrit Cole on the mound, Carlos Gomez sent a shot right to the center field wall. Gomez was sure the ball was gone and hot-dogged a bit, until he saw Cutch go up for the catch and the ball bounce off of the wall instead of going over it. He immediately began to run hard and made it easily to third for a stand-up triple. As Cole approached third to grab the ball from Josh Harrison, Cole threw a few choice words at Gomez that he did not appreciate. Gomez launched himself at Cole and benches were cleared. A few punches were thrown, and Gomez was ejected, as were Jerry Narron (a Brewers bench coach), Travis Snider, and Russell Martin. Incidentally, it was Martin's day off. The game continued to 14 innings after Jason Grilli blew a save on a Ryan Braun home run for the second game in a row. This is the only game to make the list in which the Pirates didn't win.

11. Game 4 - Pirates Dominate Cards in First Meeting

After a relatively disappointing end to the 2013 Post Season, it was unclear what the first game against the NL Division Champions would be like. Spirits were lifted for Buccos fans when the team did not just beat the Cardinals - they crushed them. For a while, it was seemingly a close game. The Buccos struck first on a solo homer from Alvarez, and then, struck again in the fourth when he decided to have a second crack at it along with a solo home run from Travis Ishikawa (remember him?). But the Cardinals minimized the early damage in the fifth inning with a two-run homer from Shelby Miller (aw, the pitcher, really?). They would not score again. The Pirates, however, went on to score three runs in the sixth, one run in the seventh, and five, gloriously knife-twisting runs in the eighth, just for good measure. It also helped that Gerrit Cole made it through seven full innings, and Miller only made it through 5.1. Miller's record fell to 0-5 against the Pirates

10. Game 57 - Sunday Night Baseball Against Dodgers

Sunday Night Baseball - better known as The Andrew McCutchen Show. Whether it was the attention of the media or just a massive coincidence, Cutch decided to step out of his "slump" and turn it on. He had his first homer in more than a month, plus two doubles, two runs scored, and some pretty excellent fielding. Pedro was also fantastic, driving in three runs, and Josh Harrison had a solo home run. The team caused Zack Greinke to have his worst start of the season with four runs on five hits over seven innings. Final score: Buccos 5, Dodgers 3.

9. Game 2 - Walk-off Win After 16 Long Innings Against Cubs

Two games into the season, both into extra innings. This game just went a little bit longer into extra innings than the first. A common theme among the extra inning games of the first half of the season is blown saves. This game seemed a lock until both Melancon and Grilli each gave up a run in the eighth and ninth innings respectively, something that slightly scared fans who were not used to such a rarity. Tensions ran high when the Cubbies scored in the twelfth inning on a Rizzo home run, but coincidentally, the Bucs also scored Clint Barmes on a single from Starling Marte, extending the game even longer. Stolmy Pimentel pitched four clean innings until finally, in the sixteenth inning, Starling Marte singled Jose Tabata over to third-base, and the pinch-hitter, Tony Sachez singled Tabata in to win the game. No one likes to tax the bullpen this early in the season, but if you're going to do it, you better win. The game went for five hours and fifty-five minutes, the lengthiest in PNC Park history to date.

8. Game 13 - Home Run Derby Against Reds

It's okay if you missed last year's Home Run Derby as long as you were tuned in to this baseball game. Over the first six innings of the game, ten homers went out at Great American Ballpark - a record high for the stadium. If the game hadn't been suspended until the following day, this number could have reached even higher. The Pirates took six of the ten homers, going back-to-back three times. Neil Walker and Gaby Sanchez went back-to-back twice. Marte and Snider had the other set. Unfortunately, while all of the Buccos had solo shots, the Reds had three two-run homers and one solo. The Bucs also had a run from the first inning from a Cutch single following a Marte double, causing the game to be tied after six innings. The following day, in the seventh inning, Andrew McCutchen doubled and was driven in by a single from Russell Martin. This go ahead run would prove to be the winning run.

7. Game 16 - Harrison’s Heroics Begin, Bucs Pulverize Brewers

Still with me? Good, because this is where it starts to heat up. Josh Harrison has been having himself a heck of a year. As the prime example of a perfect utility player, he's been a pivitol part of this team, especially this season. This game was the first big sign of that. Going into the seventh inning, the Brewers and the Bucs were tied 2-2. J-Hay decided he didn't like being tied, so as a pinch-hitter, he sent a two-run shot out of the park. Things only went up from there as the Pirates continued on to score seven more runs, while the Brewers were blanked. We didn't need those extra seven runs to win, but it sure was a lot of fun to watch - especially El Toro's three-run blast, and the three runs driven in by Cutch weren't bad either.

6. Game 29 - Marte With Walk-off HR, First of Career

Down by two in the bottom of the ninth. This is never a situation you want to be in, but that didn't phase the Pirates, as they scored three runs against the Blue Jays for a walk-off win. First, Pedro Alvarez was kind enough to bring the Bucs back to 5-all with a two-run shot following a Neil Walker single. But once there were two outs, it was feeling like the Pirates were going to head into extra innings yet again. With one swing of the bat, Starling Marte decided to send everyone home much earlier and much happier. Not only was it a home run walk-off, but it was Starling Marte's first career walk-off hit in general - perhaps owing to the fact that he majorly show-boated after his swing.

Watch Marte's Walk-Off

5. Game 68 - Polanco Has 5 Hits and Winning Home Run in 13 Innings

Once again, it is notably the failure of closing pitching that allowed this game to become an exceptionally exciting game. It should have been relatively uneventful. It should have ended in the ninth, when the Bucs were beating the Marlins 6-2. Jeff Locke was completely dominant and pitched a full eight innings. Perhaps if he would have stayed in one more, things wouldn't have gotten out of hand. First came just Wilson, who walked two and got only one out. Then, they put in Grilli, as if he would help the situation. He did not. He walked one more before getting a ground-out that allowed one run to score (6-3). He walked another to load the bases again before giving up a single (6-5). Then, after an intentional walk and bases loaded again, Mark Melancon was brought in to clean things up, right? Wrong. He gave up just one more walk to tie the game before finally getting out of the excruciating inning. Fast forward to the thirteenth inning of extras. You remember that guy we just brought in a couple days earlier? Polanco? Yes, that is the champion to which I am referring. He hit a two run bomb to put the Bucs back in front, a place where they never should have left in the first place. Overall, he went five-for-seven with those two RBIs and three runs scored.

Jeanmar Gomez finished off the last four innings for the Buccos - flawlessly, I might add. He gave up just one hit, allowed one intentional walk, and had four strikeouts. That’s the way to save the bullpen in extra innings - even if half of them did pitch in the ninth inning. So here’s a fun statistic for you. It took Wilson, Grilli, and Melancon a combined total of 53 pitches to get out of the ninth inning (only 23 were strikes). In the four innings that Jeanmar Gomez was on the mound, he threw just 46 total pitches, 31 for strikes.

Polanco saves the day

4. Game 81 - Harrison Houdini

Many games are pretty boring until they finally become exciting. This game against the Mets was pretty much one of those cases. Both teams each scored two runs off of singles in the fourth inning, but not much else was going on until the tenth. The box score won't tell you much about this inning, because in the end, no runs were produced. This inning, however, was incredibly thrilling. Josh Harrison was supposed to have the day off, but he came in during the bottom of the seventh inning to pinch hit. Harrison led off the top of the tenth with a single, and then stole second. The Mets challenged the safe call on the field and after several minutes, they lost the challenge. Excitement began to build. There was a runner in scoring position with no outs, and Polanco was up. What happened next will not soon be forgotten. Polanco hit a come-backer right to the pitcher, and J-Hay was caught in between second and third in a run-down. Words cannot possibly describe the epicness off what happened here. Somehow, in a feat of superhuman greatness that we mere mortals cannot comprehend, Harrison made it to third base unscathed and had allowed enough time for Polanco to get to second safely as well.

Unbelievably, the Bucs were unable to score this inning.

In the eleventh, with one out, Clint Barmes walked. Mercer struck out, and with two outs and just one on, it seemed like the twelfth inning was a sure thing. But Harrison was up, and the fans had a lot of faith in their J-Hay Da (Magic) Man. The sold-out stadium was electric, and Harrison could not let them down. He launched a double to the center field wall, allowing Barmes to score and walk it off.

Watch the magic here

3. Game 20 - Ike’s Grand Slam, Walker Walk-Off

I talked about those games that are boring the whole way through until something exciting finally happens. This game was not one of those times. The Reds scored a run right away in the first inning and again in the third. Down by two in the fourth, Ike Davis came up to the plate with the bases loaded and did something for the Pirates that he hadn't done before. He hit a home run - a grand slam, no less. He even cracked his bat.

But the lead didn’t hold, as the Reds scored a run in the seventh and two runs in the eighth to go ahead. Andrew McCutchen did not want to send his team into the ninth inning down by a run, so in true MVP fashion, he sent a shot over the right center field wall.

Going in tied, Jared Hughes pitched a clutch scoreless top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and runners on first and second, Neil “the Real Deal” Walker, decided that he was ready to go home. He singled on a line drive to right field, scoring Russell Martin for the walk-off win. RAISE THE JOLLY ROGER!

Watch Ike's grand salami here

2. Game 1 - Neil Walker Walk-Off Homer After Bonus Baseball in Home Opener

Opening day - a time when all those amazing feelings come rushing back as if they never left at all. The smell of hot dogs and a freshly manicured field. Fans crowding back into their seats like they had just been out to grab a sandwich from Primanti's instead of being away for almost six months. Fans were left with little to cheer about for nine and a half innings though as both teams completely shut out each other. It was feeling like no one would ever score a run, until Neil Walker, the Pittsburgh Kid, came up to bat in the bottom of the tenth.

Flashback to April 12, 1965, opening day of that year. The scene was exactly the same. Going into the bottom of the tenth, Bob Bailey homered to win the game 1-0 for his Buccos against the Giants. This was the last time in franchise history that opening day ended with a walk-off hit until Neil replicated history in a tribute-like fashion.

The Hometown Kid, with a true appreciate of Pittsburgh history, got to relive it for himself as he sent a bomb over the Clemente Wall and got almost 40,000 fans on their feet. “Clear the deck! Cannonball comin’!”$(KGrHqZHJB!FH6NrroV3BSDYO+!b8g~~_35.JPG

Another cool thing about this game was that it was the very first regular season game in which instant replay was used to challenge a play. The Cubs challenged an out call, but the play on the field was upheld. Basically, the umps told Samardzija to “STFD.”

Later in the game, the Pirates would also challenge a play, overturning the call on the field.

1. Game 33 - Marte Walk-Off Win After Replay Review

You may have noticed that a few games above contained record breaking numbers, but most of those numbers will eventually be outdone. This game, however, made history in a way that can never be surpassed. It was the first game in which the outcome was immediately determined by instant replay. Both the Pirates and the Giants had only scored one run each, both in the second inning, both from relatively unexciting plays. Going into the bottom of the ninth, still tied 1-1, Andrew McCutchen singled, but Pedro Alvarez quickly grounded into a double play to clear the bases. Starling Marte was in the batter's box and hit a shot off the Clemente wall. He rounded second and slid into third base, and upon immediately realizing that the ball got away from third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, he headed for home. Marte, unaware that the ball had bounced closer to Sandoval, was sliding into home, not knowing how close the play would be. Buster Posey came in with the tag, and fans across the stadium deflated as the umpire signaled, "OUT!" But then, everyone remembered, and screamed, "CHALLENGE IT!" Hurdle was already headed up the steps and was given the thumbs up sign from bench coach, Jeff Banister (thumbs up to indicate that the challenge is warranted). He probably would have challenged this play even without the thumbs up. He had to do it. Fans stood, silently waiting, to see what would happen. As several replay shots were showed up on the big screen, fans everywhere yelled, "SAFE," as they always will in a situation like this. It was close, no doubt, but it appeared as if Marte's hand was on home plate before Posey tagged his chest.

Fans throughout the park remained anxious, not knowing, although believing that they would win this game. They were just as equally prepared to erupt into victorious cheers as they were to erupt into vicious jeers. And when the safe call finally came, it wasn’t just a run, it was the game. A replay walk-off win. The park exploded with elation, perhaps even more-so than if Marte had been called safe to begin with, because now, they didn’t just see a walk-off win - they saw history.

Marte Partay

But seriously, where was instant replay on July 26, 2011?

What do you think? Did I miss any exciting games from the first 81 of this season? Let me know your thoughts!

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