One of my all-time favorite Pittsburgh Pirate memories of the early 1990s is the Curtis Wilkerson Grand Slam game. The name is pretty explanatory, but the Pirates entered the ninth inning down 1-0 against the Cardinals in a mid-September game, and after they tied the game up at one, utilityman Wilkerson stepped up against Lee Smith with the bases loaded and hit a walkoff grand slam. Wilkerson only played in 85 games as a Pirate and he only hit two home runs, but I'll never forget that one. It happened late at night as our family drove through the outskirts of Chicago on our way to see family, and just as Wilkerson hit his home run we drove under a bridge that made us briefly lose the radio signal.
A lot of the details are different tonight; Harrison is a young player, while Wilkerson was a veteran. The Pirates are locked in the middle of a tooth-and-nail division fight with the Cardinals this time around, as opposed to having the race sewn up the way they did the night of Wilkerson's homer in 1991. Still, the idea remains the same; that when a baseball team comes together, sometimes it doesn't matter who's at the plate. Josh Harrison's had a pretty up-and-down Pirate career; he hit his way into being an interesting fringe guy after the trade with the Cubs that brought him to Pittsburgh, but his lack of plate patience has always put him on the outside of regular at-bats, and he (like so many other players) has struggled in a bench-role.
That's been true, even since Harrison's returned from Indianapolis with the release of Brandon Inge. Tonight, though, Harrison found his pitch on a 1-1 fastball that was up and away, but not nearly up and away enough.
Of course, unexpected walkoffs tend to make us forget everything else that happened in a game, and this one was a wild one. Jeff Locke bounced back from what looked like it was going to be an ugly game in the second and third innings to get into the sixth without any more damage. He gave up a ton of hits again (nine in 5 2/3 innings), which is something that I think a lot of us have been bracing for, but he managed to minimize damage and give the Pirates a chance to win. He was succeeded by Vin Mazzaro, who bailed him out of a sixth inning jam and pitched the seventh, then Tony Watson, then Bryan Morris, both of whom were perfect in an inning of work. At the plate, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez doubled and tripled, respectively (not a typo, somehow) to tie the game up at three in the bottom of the third. McCutchen also made an excellent diving catch in the outfield that helped bail Vin Mazzaro out of some trouble in the seventh innings.
Some nights, it just seems like it all falls into place. This was definitely one of those nights for the Pirates, I think.