Walker lifts Pirates over Cubs in Opening Day pitchers’ duel

Zach Laufer, Staff Writer

With all the talk, all the hype, and all the questions surrounding the Pirates before the first pitch of the 2014 season, anxiety was at an all-time high in and surrounding a sold-out PNC Park on the last day of March. It took awhile, but the hometown hero sent the fans home smiling.

Starting with two dominant outings from the Opening Day starters, Cubs P Jeff Samardzija — 7 IP   5 H   0 ER   2 BB   3 K — and Pirates P Francisco Liriano — 6 IP   4 H   0 ER   3 BB   10 K — the first seven innings went by fairly uneventfully. Pittsburgh never had a runner past second base, and Chicago failed to bring in the one runner they got to third.

The extended replay, newly implemented into the MLB just this year, was tested twice during the game. Chicago manager Rick Renteria challenged a close call at first base in the fifth inning, where Samardzija was called out after a poor sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a double play. The call was upheld after review.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle also made history by winning the first manager’s challenge in MLB history, coming in the top of the 10th. Pirates reliever Bryan Morris attempted a pick-off that was called safe. But, upon video review, the umpires reversed the call, and the out was recorded.

Travis Ishikawa impressed many in his debut with the Pirates; he went 2 for 3 with 1 strikeout. He also made some superb defensive plays at first base, even with committing an error.

A relatively uneventful game abruptly ended in the bottom of the 10th when Pittsburgh native Neil Walker led off the inning. Pitcher Carlos Villanueva hung a breaking ball, and Walker got all of it.

He launched it over the Clemente wall in right field, cementing an important Opening Day victory for the Buccos.

In front of a national TV audience, covered by ESPN, Walker put the Pirates on the cover of national media news outlets and newscasts alike; baseball is back.

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