Remembering The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates: The Most Exciting Pirates Team In Decades


Pirates catcher Russell Martin (left) and pitcher Jason Grilli (right) run for a hug as the Pirates defeat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 for their first postseason win in decades. Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller / Getty Images

Let’s be honest, if you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, there’s probably not a lot of recent memories you have of this team that are positive. How could I blame you? The Pirates are a small market, penny-pinching franchise that has had back to back 100 loss seasons and hasn’t had a playoff appearance since 2015. 

Many of the familiar faces of the past decade have been traded away or left as soon as they wanted a pay raise, and while the Pirates do have young upstart talent like Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and O’Neil Cruz, it’s still (as always) a tough time to be a Buccos fan. 

But in my attempt to reminisce about the past, I remembered one team in particular that was able to bring hope and success to the Steel City’s baseball team for the first time in decades: the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates. A team that tallied a 94-68 record. A team that had a prime Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, and hometown kid Neil Walker. A team that had a strong pitching staff that featured AJ Burnett, Jeff Locke, a rookie Gerrit Cole, and Fransisco Liriano, who was credited with 16 wins that season. 

The 2013 Pirates were certainly an anomaly in comparison to their past years. They were the first Pirates team to win over 90 games since 1992, the first Pirates team to place as high as second in their division since 1997, and had the highest hits total (1346) since 2009. 

They also had the second highest fan attendance in PNC Park history, totaling over 2.25 million people over the course of the 2013 season, being bested only by PNC Park’s inaugural season in 2001. 

Pittsburgh started out rough, going 1-5 in their opening 6 games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but were able to quickly turn it around, winning 14 of their next 20 and establishing their footing in the eventual playoff race. 

Over the course of the 2013 season, the Pirates spent 56 days in or tied for first place, a lead that Pirate fans can only dream of these days. They went 19-9 in May, and 17-9 In June, where they also racked up a 9 game win streak, their longest of the season. 

That late spring and early summer success was able to help push them ahead in the playoff race, even as their success began to falter in July and August. They finished the season 26 games over a .500 winning percentage, an astonishing feat for the Pirates. 

As for the players on the roster, the Pirates fielded an impressive lineup, consisting of National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, who led the team in hits with 185, a .317 batting average, and runs scored himself, with 97. 

Leading the way in the home runs department was Pedro Alvarez, also in his prime at 26. He smacked home 36 home runs, followed by McCutchen in second with 21, and Pittsburgh kid Neil Walker at third with 16. Alvarez also led in runs batted in, with an even 100. 

The Pirates also had five players make the MLB All Star Game that year, with Alvarez and McCutchen joining pitchers Jeff Locke, Mark Melancon, and Jason Grilli as the first time the Pirates had five players named for an MLB All Star Game since 1972. 

These Pirates were also an anomaly in their payroll. The 2013 Pirates had three players making $13 million or over in salary. For comparison, the highest paid Pirate in 2022 made only $10 million, and the next highest salary was under $7 million. 

But for all these things that made this team different, one major thing stands out amongst all the others: the 2013 Pirates were a playoff team. 

For the first time in over 20 years, the Pirates had qualified for the MLB postseason. After finishing second in the NL Central, the Pirates faced off against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park (thanks in part to Pittsburgh’s sweep of Cincinnati at the end of the season), for the NL Wild Card Game, the first playoff game in PNC Park history, and the first Pirates playoff game since 1992. 

And the game was straight out of a movie script. 

In the second inning, Marlon Byrd hits a solo home run into the crowd, and gives Pittsburgh an early 1-0 lead. In the midst of all the excitement pouring out of PNC Park, Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto drops the baseball while standing on the mound as fans mockingly chant “Cue-to, Cue-to, Cue-to.” The crowd goes ecstatic and the chants only get louder. 

The very next pitch, Russell Martin slams home another solo home run, his first of two in the game, and gives the Pirates a 2-0 lead. The Pirates stay in the lead the whole game, scoring another run in the 3rd inning and two more in the 4th. 

Francisco Liriano pitched an almost perfect game, allowing just 1 run and 4 hits in 7 innings pitched, and at the top of the 9th inning, the Pirates sat with a 6-2 lead.

Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who at the age of 36 finally got his opportunity to be a closer for an MLB team, pitched the final three outs, and the crowd of over 40,000 people scream and cheer as the Pirates celebrate their first postseason win in decades. 

While the win was magical, and the Pirates were the Cinderella story of the season, it was unfortunately not to last. The Pirates would advance to the National League Division Series, but would fall to the St. Louis Cardinals, who went all the way to the 2013 World Series. After splitting games in both St. Louis and Pittsburgh, the Pirates would fall in a deciding Game 5, 6-1 in Busch Stadium. 

While the 2013 run had ended, the Pirates would be able to keep at least a tiny amount of success going for the next two years. 

In 2014, the Pirates went 88-74 and made the 2014 NL Wild Card game, before losing to the San Francisco Giants in a 8-0 blowout. 

In 2015, the Pirates actually bested their 2013 record, going 98-64, but once again fell in the NL Wild Card game, with this time the Chicago Cubs handing them a 4-0 defeat. 

While it didn’t ultimately end with a World Series ring, or even a deep playoff run, the 2013 Pirates were a glimmer of hope and success for fans who were either too young to ever see any, or had been waiting for decades to see it.

Check out more of the Remembering series:

The 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins

The 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers