The 2012 year was not the best for Pittsburgh sports, but it created some major memories. The NHL lockout really hurts this countdown, and the amount of Penguin moments on this list is limited due to that. The Steelers, with the exception of a couple games, had a very forgettable season. Despite a collapse at the end of the season, the Pirates dominate most of this list. Without further ado, here is the list of the top twenty moments in Pittsburgh these past twelve months.
20. Phillies vs. Pirates – June 27th: Our list of memorable moments for the 2012 year in Pittsburgh sports starts off with a regular baseball game that featured nothing but a fun fact that had never been done. The Pirates won the game 11-7, and pulled off something that hasn’t happened in the history of baseball. Home runs hit in the game by Michael McKenry, Casey McGehee, and Andrew McCutchen made the Pirates the only team in the live-ball era to have three homers in the same game from three different players whose last names start with “Mc.” The fact was never spread around all that much, but it was an interesting and fun addition to the Pirates season. Oh, and this game also featured the Brad Lincoln/Jim Thome stare down, which was pretty intense.
19. Consol Energy Center hosts NCAA Tournament : Pittsburgh fans had the chance to see one of the best events in sports, the NCAA Tournament, played right in the heart of Pittsburgh. Second and third round games were played there March 15th and 17th and the fans had the chance to see Syracuse, West Virginia, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, and others play in the brief three-day stretch. The six-games in three days featured a couple of exciting matchups, and was a bright side to Pittsburgh college basketball fans, especially after the season the Pitt basketball team had.
18. Rutgers vs. Pitt – November 24th : One of Pitt’s most memorable games of the year came against a Big East opponent, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Pitt was unranked, like they were the whole season, and Rutgers was ranked No. 21. The Scarlet Knights never stood a chance as the Panthers, similar to the Virginia Tech game, jumped out to a 21-0 lead early on. Ray Graham had a solid game, running for 113 yards and a touchdown. Tino Suneri threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, as well. The final score was 27-6, and the Panthers bowl hopes were kept alive.
17. Cardinals vs. Pirates – August 19th: The Pirates played their second 19-inning game in as many years and unlike last year, the team was able to pull out a victory in this one. For the second straight year, Michael McKenry caught all nineteen innings. The Bucs managed to put up a run in the 17th, and fans finally thought the game would be over, but the Pirates bullpen was unable to hang on. The Bucs would eventually put up a three-spot in the 19th, started off by a Pedro Alvarez solo home run, which is where, at the time, newly-acquired pitcher Wandy Rodriguez picked up his first win as a Pirate closing out the ballgame which lasted over six hours.
16. Flyers vs. Penguins – April 7th: The final regular season game of the season featured nothing in terms of playoff standing/berth but marked a couple of milestones. First off, Evgeni Malkin was sitting on 49 goals, and was able to pick up his 50th of the season, giving him his first ever fifty-goal season, and extending his league lead in points. Next, the win also marked the first ever win in the Consol Energy Center over the Flyers. Goals scored by Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Malkin helped lead the Penguins to a 4-2 victory over their biggest rivalry, which lead to their memorable playoff series.
15. Giants vs. Pirates – July 8th: The All-Star break was right around the corner, and the Pirates closed out the first half of the season with a bang. The final score was 13-2, and showed all baseball fans the Pirates weren’t going away. The win put them in sole possession of first place for the All-Star break, and everyone was pumped up. The game featured A.J. Burnett’s tenth win, two home runs from Andrew McCutchen, and a five-hit game from Neil Walker. Burnett even picked up an RBI single in the game, which was one of his two RBIs of the season.
14. Flyers vs. Penguins – April 20th: Falling behind in the playoff series to the Flyers 3-0, the Penguins were able to pull off a victory game four and game five, before being knocked out game six. One of their most memorable wins of the season came game five, as they pulled off a hard-fought win against the Flyers. The final score of the game was 3-2, and the Penguins goals came from Steve Sullivan, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Kennedy. The number one star in the game though was without a doubt, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury finished the game with 24 saves, and some were the best of his career. Solid defense and a tight, exciting playoff hockey game makes this one of the more memorable moments all year long in Pittsburgh sports.
13. Penguins 11-game win streak – February 21st through March 17th: The Penguins went on their best run in years, winning 11 straight games, including shootout winners against Dallas and Florida. The streak put the Pens in clear contention for a playoff spot when some questioned whether or not they would make the playoffs before the streak occurred. Evgeni Malkin played ridiculous throughout the streak, picking up sixteen points altogether, with seven goals. Three of the goals came in the same game as he picked up a hat trick against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sidney Crosby was only around for the final two games of the streak, but the team was really on fire and one of the best in the league towards the end of the year thanks to the lengthy winning streak put together by the Penguins.
12. Cubs vs. Pirates – July 31st: A.J. Burnett, who was one of the Cy Young candidates at the time, had his best outing of the season against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Burnett was four outs away from a no-hitter and it was one of the more memorable outings of his career. He finished the game allowing only one hit, and had the city of Pittsburgh thinking they were going to witness the first Pirates no-hitter since the 90’s. The Bucs won the game 5-0, and four of the runs came off of Neil Walker’s first inning grand slam. The grand slam was the second of Walker’s career, with both of them coming at Wrigley Field, and was one of the best moments of the Pirates season.
11. Virginia Tech vs. Pitt – September 15th: The Panthers hosted the Hokies at Heinz Field, who were ranked 13th in the country at the time of the game. Though a clear favorite, Virginia Tech got rolled on big time by Pitt. Pittburgh was 0-2 following horrible losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati and Virginia Tech was 2-0 and sitting well in the ACC. The Panthers would get up 21-0 early against the Hokies and would hang onto their lead, eventually winning the game 35-17. Ray Graham came close to 100 yards rushing and picked up three total touchdowns. Tino Sunseri finished the game with over 250 yards to go along with three passing touchdowns. The loss really hurt Virginia Tech, and they went on to finish the season with a 6-6 record.
10. MLB All-Star Break – July 9th and 10th: The Pirates sent two players to the All-Star game this year, and it was the second year in a row both Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan were named to the squad. The game itself featured limited play from the two Buccos, but when they got the chance to perform, they looked good. McCutchen had a laser-beam single in the game and Hanrahan faced one batter, and struck him out. The National League won the game, but those two making it aren’t the reason why this is on the list. The night before the All-Star game, McCutchen was given the opportunity to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby. McCutchen was named to the National League squad as a replacement to Giancarlo Stanton. McCutchen did not win the Home Run Derby, and only had four homers altogether, but it was nice for fans seeing a Pirate perform on the national spotlight in front of hundreds of thousands of baseball fans. He became the first Pirate to hit a home run in the derby since Barry Bonds in the 1992 derby and was the fourth Pirate ever to make it to the home run derby, joining Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jason Bay.
9. Astros vs. Pirates – July 26th: Of course this was going to be on here. The Starling Marte game. Almost everyone remembers where they were when the rookie came to the plate to lead the game off. Marte wasted no time making a name for himself in the major leagues, homering on the first pitch he ever saw in the big leagues to lead the game off. It was easily one of the highlights of the Pirates season, and will be remembered for an extremely long time by all Pirate fans. The hit will definitely be one the most notable hits of the young outfielder’s career, and not many plays in the future will be as exciting as it. Garrett Jones hit a two-run bomb just a few batters later, and the Pirates would eventually win 5-3. It was A.J. Burnett’s twelfth win, as he pitched 7.1 innings of solid baseball. It was also Joel Hanrahan’s 30th save of the season. Marte finished the night with two hits, and not many hits will ever be as legendary and unforgettable as his lead off home run.
8. Giants vs. Steelers – November 4th: The Steelers traveled to the Meadowlands to put together one of their best wins of the season. As an underdog, the Steelers were able win the game 24-20. A 50-yard touchdown by Mike Wallace, to go along with close to 150 rushing yards by Issac Redman, helped lead the Steelers to a huge win. Emmanuel Sanders helped the team in the return game, and the defense bailed out Mike Tomlin on multiple occasions. Even with fans feeling that the referees called a lopsided game in favor of New York, the Steelers shocked the Super Bowl champions big time.
7. Andrew McCutchen wins Silver Slugger Award and Gold Glove Award : As you have read multiple times throughout this list, Andrew McCutchen had an unforgettable season. His first half was one of the best in Pirate history, and he earned some honors when the season was all said and done. McCutchen earned his first ever Silver Slugger award, and became the first Pirate since Jack Wilson in 2004 to earn the honors. The Gold Glove award was another award added onto McCutchen’s resume, becoming the first Pirate since Nate McLouth in 2008 to earn the award. Some thought he could have won the National League MVP, but he placed third in the voting, behind Buster Posey and Ryan Braun. The awards to McCutchen capped off the best season of his young career, and one of the best seasons Pirates fans have witnessed in a long time.
6. Reds vs. Pirates – June 7th: Many of you might remember this one very well. This moment at Great American Ballpark was the spark to the memorable June and July the Pirates put together. After Joel Hanrahan blew a save in the bottom of the ninth, Pirates fans were worried when they saw Aroldis Chapman warming up in the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds. Chapman was the best reliever in the league at the time, not allowing a run all season, and only allowing eight hits. The bottom of the order shocked everyone as back-to-back doubles by Clint Barmes and Michael McKenry lead the Pirates to a stunning victory, over the dominant left-hander. Chris Resop struck out Ryan Ludwick looking to end the game, and end one of the best games the Pirates played all season.
5. Opening Weekend: Phillies vs. Pirates – April 7th and 8th: The opening series of the 2012 season was one to remember. The Pirates dropped the first game of the season to the Phillies, but won the next two games to win the series. Both wins came on walk off hits, and got the city of Pittsburgh in the Pirate spirit early on. The first win came on an Alex Presley infield single, which showed true hustle by the scrappy outfielder. The next walk off came Sunday afternoon, as Andrew McCutchen hit a single off the center field wall to help beat the Phillies for the second straight game on a walk off.
4. The Zoltan: Fans asked all season long what the hand signal Pirates would make after getting a hit was, and the answer was “The Zoltan.” Inspired by a character in the movie “Dude, Where’s My Car?” the “Z” made by the Pirates is taken strictly from the movie starring Sean William Scott and Ashton Kutcher. Neil Walker claimed the team watched the movie on a road trip, and the players thought it was hilarious, which resulted in the team using it in games. The first time it was displayed in a game was on May 8th, as Pirates players held it up after Rod Barajas’s walk off home run against the Washington Nationals. The rest was history. Shirts were made with the “Z” on it, little leaguers were taking after the players doing it in their games, and the players always threw it up after an extra base hit/RBI hit. Hal Sparks, who plays Zoltan in the movie “Dude, Where’s My Car?” even threw out a first pitch at one point in the season. It was nothing but a fun little thing the Pirates did, which spread all over the place and became one of the better known celebrations throughout the league.
3. Astros vs. Pirates – July 3rd: In perhaps the most memorable game in PNC Park history, the Pirates won the game on the shoulders of a newcomer. The Bucs cut four run deficits twice in the game, being down 4-0 and 6-2 at points in the game. The Pirates got the lead on one of Garrett Jones’ biggest home runs of his career, as he hit a seventh inning bomb into the Allegheny River to give the Pirates a 7-6 win. Joel Hanrahan was unable to close the game out, and that is when arguably the most memorable moment of the Pirates season happened. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Drew Sutton hit a hanging slider over the centerfield wall giving the Pirates one of their most memorable wins in recent memory. It was Sutton’s first career walk off homer, and he wasn’t a Pirate for much longer, but the hit was definitely one he, and the majority of us Pirate fans, will never forget.
2. Evgeni Malkin wins Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy: One of the only moments on this list that doesn’t feature a certain game/moment from a game, but for good reasoning. The unbelievable season put together by Penguins center Evgeni Malkin earned him his first career Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP of the NHL) and second career Art Ross Trophy (NHL leader in ponts). Beating out the Lightnings’ Steve Stamkos and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, Malkin finished his memorable season with 50 goals and 59 assists, giving him 109 total points, which was enough for the league lead in that category. The awards being won by Malkin made him the fourth Penguin to ever win the Hart Memorial Trophy (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby). The Art Ross Trophy was the second of Malkin’s career, and his first since 2009, when he finished the season with 113 points.
1. Ravens vs. Steelers – December 2nd: I don’t think there’s much of a debate surrounding this one earning the number one spot on the list. The Steelers, who were in a rough patch following losses to Cleveland and Baltimore two weeks before, were really missing Ben Roethlisberger who was inactive due to injuries. Byron Leftwich was unable to beat the Ravens at Heinz Field two weeks earlier, and after a seven-turnover performance in Cleveland seven days earlier, the Steelers weren’t given much of a chance against the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens. Charlie Batch shocked the world, pulling off the most memorable win of his career, beating the Ravens 23-20. The team trailed 13-6 at halftime, and the Steelers would put together one of their best halves of the season to close the game out. A Batch to Heath Miller touchdown midway through the fourth quarter tied the game up and the Steelers unsung hero, Shaun Suisham, won the game for the Steelers knocking down a 42-yard field goal as time expired. Suisham finished the game with three 40-plus yard field goals and was a big contributor to the most memorable moment of the 2012 year for Pittsburgh sports.