Series with Cards a part of history

PITTSBURGH – What a weekend it was at PNC Park.

Not only did the Pittsburgh Pirates walk off with two victories, and not only did they win the games in extra innings, they won both facing a deficit.

Taking three of four games in the weekend series against the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals allowed the Pirates to get within 2 1/2 games of first place.

Those two games clearly represent highlights in the 15 seasons at PNC Park. The only game that comes close is the 2013 Wild Card win over the Cincinnati Reds, when the Pirates reached the postseason after a 20-year losing streak.

Beyond that? For excitement and drama that stretched beyond a single game, you’d probably have to go back to Sept. 29, 1978 when the Pirates played a Friday night doubleheader against the National League East-leading Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies came in for the four-game, season-ending series holding a three and a half game lead.

You didn’t need a calculator to figure out the scenario – the Pirates needed to win all four games. Anything less would give the division to the Phillies (and there were no wild card consolation prizes in those days, kids).

The rivalry between the Phillies and Pirates was white hot, with several in-game brawls spicing the games between two excellent teams.

The Pirates had attendance problems then, but 45,134 people paid their way into Three Rivers Stadium that night. They saw the Pirates win both games in the bottom of the ninth inning.

In the first game, Ed Ott tripled off Ron Reed, and was able to score on center fielder Garry Maddox’s error.

The second game was even wilder. Steve Carlton allowed a leadoff double to Dave Parker, who went to third on another error by Maddox. By the way, Maddox was nicknamed “Secretary of Defense” and won eight Gold Glove awards.

Carlton intentionally walked Bill Robinson and Willie Stargell to load the bases. On a 1-1 pitch to Phil Garner, reliever Warren Brusstar balked in the winning run. The sweep offered hope that the Pirates could pull of the miracle, but they lost the next day, 10-8.

So will there be carryover effect from this weekend for the last nine games between the Pirates and Cardinals? Probably not. The Cardinals devastated the Pirates with three walk-off wins in April.

If that sent a message, the Pirates didn’t get it. They’ve won five of seven against the Cardinals since that series.

The good thing about the weekend is it preceded the All-Star break. So instead of getting swallowed in the daily grind of the schedule, it lingered so fans could savor a couple of special moments.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com