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Pirates First Game: Giles' grand slam in ninth caps incredible comeback in 9-8 victory against Astros

Sunday, July 29, 2001

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It was an historic clout on an historic day. Down to their last out in the ninth and trailing by six runs with nobody on base, the Pirates scored seven times against one of the best bullpens in baseball, including a climactic grand slam by Brian Giles off Billy Wagner, for an improbable 9-8 victory in the opener of the first home day-night doubleheader in franchise history.

Brian Giles celebrates after hitting a grand slam off Astros closer Billy Wagner to give the Pirates a dramatic victory yesterday at PNC Park. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

The only thing that went wrong was Giles' handshake with the first-base coach as his laser beam of a home run landed in the right-field bleachers.

"I never give high fives to Tommy Sandt at first base. But I knew it was gone. I knew the game was over. The first time I'm going to try it and we miss. It didn't look very good around first base," Giles said.

But it looked good everywhere else at PNC Park. About two-thirds of the crowd of 32,977 stuck around for the daytime fireworks, and a mob of teammates awaited Giles at home plate.

The comeback tied a National League record for most runs with two outs in the ninth inning. The last time it happened was June 29, 1952, when the Cubs rallied for a 9-8 victory against the Reds in the first game of a doubleheader. Throw in the fact the blow was struck at 3:36 p.m. -- the minute Bill Mazeroski beat the Yankees in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series -- and it's downright eerie.

"It's a funny game. You never know. Until you get that last out, you're certainly in it. All year, our kids have been battling. They don't believe in quitting. Today was a great example of it," Manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Lefty on lefty. Their guy's throwing 100 mph, and you turn that fastball around. That's pretty good. Surely you don't think I'm going to sit here and try to explain it."

As surprising as the outcome was, the Pirates still wouldn't have been celebrating if Giles hadn't made a stellar defensive play to rob Vinny Castilla of a home run in the fourth inning. Castilla still connected for three home runs and had five RBIs to help the Astros build an 8-2 lead.

But in the fourth, Giles raced back to the wall in left center on a high fly ball, timed his leap perfectly and brought back what would have been a home run.

"It would have landed in the front row, I think," Giles said.

 
 
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Asked about his vertical leap, he said: "I used to be able to dunk. It's tough, now, for a short, fat guy like myself." But turning serious, he added: "Here, you can't give up on the ball. It was hit high. Those are really the only balls you have a chance to bring back."

Nothing could account for what happened with only one out left in the game. After all, the Astros had been 49-0 when leading after eight innings this year, and they were up six runs with Mike Jackson on the mound.

Starter Roy Oswalt, who left the game in the seventh inning, figured his team was about to go 11 games over .500 for the seventh time this season.

"I counted it as a win," he said.

Nobody was drifting toward the tunnel in the Pirates' dugout, though.

"Not at all. Guys were still peppy. I just told them to swing the bats and see what happens. Surely, we have nothing to lose in that case," McClendon said. "Short of amazing. I guess that's the only way to describe it."

With two outs, the rally started with a double by Kevin Young, who had accounted for the Pirates' earlier offense with a single and a sacrifice fly. Pat Meares then hit his fourth home run into the left-field seats.

Adam Hyzdu followed with a pinch-hit single, Tike Redman walked on four pitches and Jack Wilson slapped a run-scoring single to keep the inning alive. That brought on Wagner, who promptly plunked Jason Kendall to bring the winning run to the plate in Giles. He had struck out in his only previous at-bat against Wagner.

"He's been so clutch all year," Meares said. "I just thought if we could get him up ... you don't want to see Kendall get hit, but I just thought if we could get him up. You don't expect to put a seven-spot up with two outs. You never know in this game."

Giles felt some adrenaline going from the bench.

"You know it's going to be tough to come back, but this team battles. Meares goes deep, Hyzdu singles. I'm thinking, 'C'mon, kid, get on there. Let's take a chance of tying this thing or maybe winning it. It worked out," Giles said.

With a three-run lead, Wagner could have afforded to walk Giles and take his chances with Aramis Ramirez on deck. But the percentages favored the matchup of two left-handers.

"I don't think it's in his nature to pitch around somebody," Astros Manager Larry Dierker said. "That was quite a comeback."

Giles figured Wagner would come right after him, too. After a 98 mph pitch for a ball, Giles hit his 25th home run. It was the fourth grand slam of his career and his 99th home run for the Pirates.

"He's going to come after anybody. I was just trying to put it in play and hit it hard. I don't think you ever go there expecting to go deep. You want to be short to the ball, and he's going to supply the power," Giles said.

Asked if he had been involved in such a comeback before, Giles went to his deadpan.

"When we were 12, our Little League team was down, 12-2. With two outs. We dropped an 11-spot and won," he joked. And then he went to the Dairy Queen for a postgame treat.

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