By John Perrotto
PITTSBURGH — The ultra-talented Starling Marte makes his share of mistakes that leaves everyone in the ballpark scratching their heads at times.
A case in point came in the seventh inning Saturday at PNC Park when the Pirates left fielder doubled to lead off then inexplicably took off for third base with one out and the score tied 1-1 and San Francisco Giants rookie reliever Hunter Strickland standing on the mound and holding the ball.
Strickland easily threw Marte out at third base.
Rookie shortstop Jung Ho Kang followed with a home run that put the Pirates ahead 2-1 rather than 3-1. The lost run proved critical when the Giants tied the game in the top of the eighth on a run-scoring wild pitch by reliever Joakim Soria.
However, Marte more than made up for it the bottom of the ninth inning when he launched a first-pitch solo home run off right-handed reliever George Kontos into the left-field bleachers to give the Pirates a 3-2 victory, their fourth win in five games.
Marte went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to seven games, going 12-for-32 (.375) in that span.
“He’s an exciting player and he sometimes tries to get some things done and make some things happen and he thought he’d seen a routine where the pitcher had fallen into a pattern and it didn’t work,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “It never looks good when you’re out in that situation, he understands it.”
It looks good, though, to come through a walk-off winning hit and the sellout crowd of 38,259 cheered Marte’s homer raucously after booing him two innings earlier.
“To walk off with a home run is fun,” Marte said with a smile.
He also didn’t second-guess his decision to try to steal third base and doesn’t plan to tone done his aggressive nature.
“Nothing happened. I’m gone,” Marte said. “I try to make this play and if we get a fly ball or a base hit, we score another run.
“What about if I don’t do that, maybe (Kang) strikes out. You never know.
“I was thinking that, too, because sometime you don’t make a play and the guy hits a home run. If you don’t run, it’s two runs but if that happens, I’m going to keep doing it. If they give me a base, I’m going to take it.”
And if Marte was playing passive, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to reach above the fence to rob Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford of a home run in the second inning.
“I’ve been working hard this year to make a play like that and I get better every day and still working,” Marte said.
–All-Star Right-hander A.J. Burnett threw off a mound before the game for the second time in the last three days as he continues his rehab from a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow that has sidelined him since July 31. Burnett’s next step would be to face hitters in a simulated game. However, the Pirates haven’t announced a timetable for that.
–Right-hander Gerrit Cole stayed stuck on 14 wins since July 26 as he did not factor in the decision despite limiting the Giants to one unearned run and three hits in seven innings with eight strikeouts and three walks.
Cole entered the month leading the major leagues in victories but has gone 0-3 with a 3.60 ERA in five August starts. He allowed three or fewer runs for the 22nd time in his 25 starts this season after allowing four runs in each of his previous two starts.
This start was certainly encouraging, though.
“A very good step back in a place for him in the right lane,” Hurdle said.
–Kang hit long home runs to center field in consecutive at-bats with the bases empty for the rookie shortstop’s first multi-homer game in the major leagues.
In addition to taking Strickland deep, Kang broke Mike Leake’s no-hit bid in the fifth inning to tie the score at 1-1. Kang has 12 homers this season.
“I’m going to do my best to take it to another level,” Kang said through a translator. “Just working hard to get to another level.”