Published On: Fri, May 11th, 2018

Forged in steel: Reliving McCutchen's finest moments in Pittsburgh

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On Friday, one of the most iconic players in Pittsburgh Pirates history returns to where it all started. Andrew McCutchen will step onto the field at PNC Park for the first time since he was traded from the only franchise he had ever known.

During his near-decade-long stint in the Steel City, McCutchen cemented himself alongside Pirates greats such as Barry Bonds, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, and Honus Wagner. Ahead of what’s expected to be an emotional return, we relive some of Cutch’s finest moments in the City of Bridges.

Cutch’s big-league debut

On June 4, 2009, after the Pirates traded Gold Glove outfielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves, McCutchen’s dream became a reality when he debuted for Pittsburgh against the New York Mets.

The 11th overall selection of the 2005 MLB Draft led off for the Pirates against Mets starter Mike Pelfrey and immediately made an impact, knocking a single to center field in his first big-league at-bat.

McCutchen went 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored in an 11-6 victory for Pittsburgh that day, which was the kick-starter to a fine career in black and gold that even the team’s front office might not have expected.

“We don’t expect Andrew to come up, hit .330, and win the National League Rookie of the Year award,” general manager Neal Huntington said at the time, according to Inside Pittsburgh Sports. “However, we do feel he is ready to play in the major leagues.”

McCutchen wasn’t too far off Huntington’s exaggerated prediction. He hit .286, posted a .836 OPS, and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

A home run buffet

On Aug. 1, 2009, just two months after making his major-league debut, McCutchen put together one of the greatest performances ever by a Pirate, becoming the first rookie in team history to hit three home runs in one game.

He led off the Pirates by hitting a solo home run against Washington Nationals starter Craig Stammen and followed that up with a two-run shot off Tyler Clippard in the fourth. With two runners on in the sixth, McCutchen swatted his third bomb against Logan Kensing, falling a grand slam short of the home run cycle.

“It was just one of those days where everything worked,” he told Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I got my pitches, I was able to hit them, and I was able to hit them out.

“It’s a day I know I won’t forget.”

McCutchen walks off the juggernaut Phillies

McCutchen had quite the year in 2009. After his impressive debut and three-homer game against the Nationals, he had another night that’ll forever be remembered in Pirates lore.

On Aug. 25, the rookie recorded the first walk-off home run of his career when he belted a deep shot into the center-field stands off closer Brad Lidge to defeat the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

The moment still resonates with Adam Bittner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“I’d say my favorite McCutchen moment was that walk-off against the Phillies in ’09,” Bittner told theScore via email. “It was well before the Pirates were any good, but moments of genuine promise were so few and far between for the Pirates at the time that it resonated differently than some of his later accomplishments. People needed hope for the long slog to relevance that followed, and he provided it that night.”

Pirates return to postseason after 21-year absence

On Sept. 23, 2013, the Pirates not only snapped their 20-year streak of losing seasons but also made it to the postseason for the first time since 1992 (when Barry Bonds still played for the team).

McCutchen played a major role, leading the NL with 8.1 WAR, getting on base at a .404 clip, and instantly becoming the face of a franchise that suffered without one for many years.

“Even though I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years,” McCutchen told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s all you hear. You hear it every single day – ‘When’s it going to change? You think this is the year?’ You get sick and tired of hearing that. It’s awesome that there won’t be any questions anymore. The question is are we going to be able to go farther.”

The Pirates lost in the league division series to the St. Louis Cardinals, but made the playoffs in the following two seasons.

National League’s best player

Not only did McCutchen help the Pirates end their lengthy postseason drought, he also added the most prestigious prize in baseball to his mantle, becoming the first Pirate to win the NL MVP award since Bonds in ’92.

“I’m very happy,” he told’s Tom Singer upon learning he had been named MVP. “If I could get up and dance, I probably would.”

The race wasn’t close. Cutch earned 409 vote points to best Paul Goldschmidt‘s 242 and Yadier Molina‘s 219.

His MVP season included 185 hits, 97 runs scored, 27 steals, and a .911 OPS.

Going out with the biggest of bangs

With trade rumors swirling for more than a season and a financially frugal organization looking to rid itself of the remainder of his contract, McCutchen and the Pirates faithful knew Sept. 26, 2017, could be the last home series for the icon as a member of the team.

So, in typical Cutch fashion, the five-time All-Star delivered a remarkable going-away present to the Steel City, driving in eight runs, including the first grand slam of his career.

After crushing a Kevin Gausman offering to deep center field, a smiling McCutchen crossed home plate, bear-hugged teammate Starling Marte, and pointed into the air as PNC Park celebrated with a curtain call.

The following night, in front of a barren audience as silent as mice, McCutchen offered one final helmet tip to the home crowd, putting a bookend on this segment of an unforgettable Pirates career, which started with dreadlocks and ended with a smile.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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