May 15, 2001: Cardinals defeat Pirates in St. Louis’s first-ever game at PNC Park

This article was written by Andrew Heckroth

Albert Pujols (Trading Card DB)The 2001 major-league season saw the debut of Pittsburgh’s new ballpark, PNC Park. On May 15 rookie Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals traveled to PNC Park for the first time and won 8-3 over a struggling Pittsburgh Pirates ballclub.

When Kevin McClatchy purchased the Pirates in 1996, one of the goals in the deal was a replacement for Three Rivers Stadium, the home of the Pirates since 1970.1 In July 1998 the Allegheny County Regional Asset District board voted 6 to 1 to approve an $809 million plan for two new stadiums in Pittsburgh.2 Ground was broken for PNC Park in April 1999, and the Pirates’ 2001 home opener on April 9 was their first game at their new home.

While more than 2.4 million fans came to PNC Park during its inaugural season, the 2001 Pirates’ season was tumultuous from the start.3 Opening Day in Pittsburgh was marred by the death of Pirates legend Willie Stargell at age 61.4 Injuries to starting pitchers Jason Schmidt, Kris Benson, and Francisco Cordova challenged first-year manager Lloyd McClendon.5 At 13 wins and 24 losses, the Pirates entered May 15 with the worst record in the National League.

The Cardinals arrived at PNC Park 8½ games ahead of the Pirates and at the top of the NL Central Division with 21 wins and 15 losses. St. Louis was fresh off an undefeated seven-game homestand, sweeping division rivals Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs. The 21-year-old Pujols – who made St. Louis’s Opening Day lineup less than two years after the Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the June 1999 draft – entered this game in the top five of several of the NL’s offensive statistical categories, including batting average (.370), home runs (13), and RBIs (42).6

Both starting pitchers were in their first year with new teams. Dustin Hermanson, acquired in an offseason trade with the Montreal Expos, got the start for the Cardinals. Hermanson, with a record of 3-1 and a 4.91 ERA, had pitched six full innings against the Pirates in his last start, on May 9, allowing two earned runs while striking out five in a 6-2 Cardinals victory.7

On the mound for the Pirates was sinkerballer Omar Olivares. Olivares, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1990 through 1994, had come to the Pirates in a March 2001 trade with the Oakland A’s. Backfilling Pittsburgh’s injury-depleted rotation, the 33-year-old righty had a 2-3 record. He came off a no-decision against the Cardinals on May 10 with four innings pitched and four earned runs allowed.8

Fernando Viña led off the game for the Cardinals.9 On Oliveras’s sixth pitch, Viña hit a towering fly ball to deep right field. John Vander Wal went back to scale the wall but missed the ball, and it hit off the wall and rolled away. Viña raced around the bases for a triple.

Plácido Polanco, starting at shortstop for an injured Edgar Rentería,10 grounded out to second to drive in Viña for the first run of the game. After Jim Edmonds struck out, Pujols and J.D. Drew singled to put runners on first and third for Bobby Bonilla, a Pirate from 1986 through 1991. The 38-year-old Bonilla, greeted with boos by Pirates fans, flied out to left field to end the inning.11 In their half of the first, the Pirates got hits from Jason Kendall and Aramis Ramírez but failed to plate the tying run.

The Cardinals’ Ray Lankford led off the second inning with a ground-rule double to the deepest part of PNC Park’s outfield, in left-center. One out later, Hermanson helped his cause with a first-pitch line-drive single to center to score Lankford for a 2-0 lead.

With Hermanson at first, a 0-and-2 sinker from Olivares sinker struck Viña’s left ankle. Viña, who came into the game leading the NL in hit-by-pitches, was assisted off the field and removed from the game.12 With two on and one out, Olivares struck out Polanco and Edmonds to end the inning.

The Pirates got on the scoreboard in the second. Enrique Wilson, getting an opportunity to start at shortstop after rookie Jack Wilson was demoted to Triple A on May 5,13 grounded out to second, but Emil Brown singled to right. With Pat Meares batting, Brown attempted to steal second. Catcher Mike Matheny’s throw bounced on the infield, missed new shortstop Craig Paquette, and went into center field, and Brown went to third. Meares then drove a full-count fastball to the base of the left-field wall. It eluded Lankford in left for a triple to drive in Brown with the Pirates’ first run. The Cardinals brought the infield in, but Olivares, like Hermanson in the top of the inning, blooped a base hit into center for the equalizer, tying the game, 2-2.

Pujols got the Cardinals the lead right back in the top of the third inning with the first home run in Cardinals history at PNC Park. On a 1-and-1 pitch, leading off the top of the third, Pujols drove an inside pitch from Olivares deep into left field to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

Hermanson preserved the one-run advantage with scoreless innings in the third, fourth, and fifth, but the Pirates threatened in the sixth. Brian Giles was ruled hit by a pitch, despite catcher Matheny arguing that Giles turned into the pitch. Kevin Young followed with a single into center. Enrique Wilson struck out for the first out, but Brown walked to load the bases.

With Meares at the plate, pitching coach Dave Duncan came out to talk to Hermanson. On the first pitch, Meares popped up to right fielder Drew, who fired the ball to Matheny to hold Giles at third.

With the pitcher’s spot up, manager McClendon pinch-hit Abraham Nuñez for Olivares. Hermanson struck him out on three pitches to strand the runners.

Righty Josías Manzanillo came on in relief of Olivares, who had set a career high with 10 strikeouts.14 Manzanillo gave up a leadoff double to Paquette, who took third on Polanco’s sacrifice.

With the left-handed Edmonds batting, McClendon went to the bullpen again and brought in left-hander Scott Sauerbeck. On the first pitch, Edmonds drove a breaking ball over Giles’s head in left field for a double, scoring Paquette with the Cardinals’ fourth run.

McClendon had Pujols intentionally walked with first base open and lefty Drew up next. The strategy worked as Drew struck out swinging on a low breaking ball. Now, with two outs, Bonilla stepped to the plate.

The switch-hitting Bonilla, batting right-handed this time, worked the count to 2-and-2 and on the sixth pitch, drilled a fastball over the left-field wall for a three-run home run to make it 7-2 Cardinals. The only cheering that came from the Pittsburgh faithful was for the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins’ goals in the Eastern Conference finals.15

The Cardinals added a run in the eighth off Jose Silva. Kerry Robinson, pinch-hitting for Hermanson, reached on an infield single, and Paquette dropped a hanging breaking ball into left field for a double. Robinson, with great speed, scored from first. An opposite-field home run by Giles, his eighth of the season, off relief pitcher Mike Timlin in the bottom of the eighth made the final score 8-3.

After the game, Bonilla smiled when asked about the boos he received. “This is nothing. Wait until we get to New York. That was nothing tonight.” Bonilla went on to admit how he enjoyed coming back to Pittsburgh, “Actually, this is a beautiful place, a magical place,” Bonilla said. “I threw about nine balls to people in the seats during the game.”16

Pujols’ home run, which put the Cardinals ahead to stay, was his 14th of the season. He was on his way to 37 homers, an NL rookie record of 130 RBIs, and the league’s Rookie of the Year Award.17 He went on to hit 35 home runs in 102 career games at PNC Park, including the 703rd and final home run of his career, against Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller on October 3, 2022.

The Cardinals finished the 2001 season with a 93-69 record and earned the NL’s wild-card spot before being eliminated in the NL Division Series by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Pirates came in at 62-100, last in the NL Central and tied with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the majors’ worst record. It was Pittsburgh’s 9th of 20 consecutive losing seasons.



This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.

Photo credit: Trading Card Database.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted and for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play. He also reviewed a recording of the Fox Sports Net television broadcast of the game, posted on YouTube by Cardinals Baseball Classics. A Pittsburgh Pirates fan-made documentary on the franchise’s 20 consecutive losing seasons was also used for information on the creation of PNC Park and the 2001 Pirates’ season.



1 Mark Belko, “Stadium Key to Keeping Bucs,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 12, 1996: B-1.

2 The initiative also funded a new stadium for the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who had also played at Three Rivers Stadium. Heinz Field opened during the 2001 NFL season. Like PNC Park, it was adjacent to Three Rivers Stadium’s former location on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Tom Barnes and Robert Dvorchak, “Plan B: Play Ball! RAD Board Votes 6-1 to Fund New Stadiums, Expansion of Convention Center,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 10, 1998: A-1.

3 The inaugural season at PNC Park in 2001 set a Pirates record attendance of 2,435,867. This record stood until the 2015 season. “Pittsburgh Pirates Attendance Data,”, accessed August 22, 2023,

4 Robert Dvorchak, “Playing in Pain,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 10, 2001: C-1.

5 John Mehno, “Demotion of Jack Wilson Is a Chance for Enrique Wilson,” The Sporting News, May 14, 2001: 27; Allen Robinson (Associated Press), “Pirates’ Players Have Setbacks,” May 16, 2001. Accessed July 23, 2023, via Newspapers Source Plus.

6 Mike Eisenbath, “Pujols Posts Mac-Like Numbers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 15, 2001: D7.

7 Rick Hummel, “Hermanson Makes Himself at Home by Beating Pirates,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 2001: D1.

8 Olivares was acquired via trade from Oakland after registering some poor starts with the A’s. John Fredland, “September 21, 2001: Albert Pujols’ first career grand slam lifts Cardinals over Pirates,” SABR Games Project, accessed July 23, 2023.

9 Before the game started, Fox Sports Midwest announcers Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabrosky complimented PNC Park as “marvelous” and “beautiful.” Hrabosky noted how the Clemente Bridge was “an extension of the ballpark” and how the Pittsburgh skyline across the Allegheny River made PNC Park “picturesque”.

10 Eisenbath, “Pujols Posts Mac-Like Numbers.”

11 Bonilla had been booed when playing in Pittsburgh ever since he signed with the New York Mets as a free agent after the 1991 season. He had signed a free-agent contract with the Cardinals for 2001, which turned out to be the final season of his 16-year major-league career.

12 As of 2023, Fernando Viña ranked 20th in career HBPs with 157.

13 John Mehno, “Demotion of Jack Wilson Is a Chance for Enrique Wilson.”

14 Robert Dvorchak, “Pirates’ Hopes Even Bleaker: More Injury News after 8-3 Defeat,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 16, 2001: D-8.

15 The Penguins were playing the New Jersey Devils in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Penguins won Game Two of the series, 4-2, but the Devils won the best-of-seven series in five games.

16 Mike Eisenbath, “Bonilla’s Home Run Gives Cards Some Room to Breathe: Winning Streak Reaches 8 as Hermanson Picks Up Fourth Victory of Season Cardinals 8, Pirates 3,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 17, 2001: D1.

17 Pujols led the 2001 Cardinals with 6.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He was the only player on the team who eclipsed 6 WAR.

Additional Stats

St. Louis Cardinals 8
Pittsburgh Pirates 3

PNC Park
Pittsburgh, PA


Box Score + PBP:

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2000s ·