Starling Marte did not do it all by himself Wednesday night, but he did do it all.
The Pirates’ left fielder notched four hits for the first time in his young-but-exciting career, stole two bases and scored all four times he got on base to lead the Pittsburgh offense to a 12-8 victory over the defending champion San Francisco Giants.
“It goes back to pitch selection,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Trying to maintain discipline throughout the at-bat, and [Marte] was able to do a much better job of that. The top of the order was really special tonight.”
Marte’s leadoff contributions were part of the top third of the Pirates’ lineup demolishing Giants left-hander Barry Zito, going 8-for-9 with six runs and three RBI off the starter. He helped the Bucs to 18 hits and 12 runs, both season highs.
For the second night in a row, Pittsburgh (39-26) hitters rattled a former Cy Young winner. The Pirates collected 11 hits and eight runs off Zito and chased him during the fifth inning, just as they had done to Tuesday night starter Tim Lincecum.
All the runs supported Pirates starter Francisco Liriano, who had his worst home outing (6 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts) over his short time wearing black and yellow. The Giants (33-31) scratched across a run apiece in the 1st and 4th innings.
“I think I made some good pitches tonight they were fouling off,” Liriano said. “They took some pitches I [would get] swings-and-misses on before.”
Then in the 5th, Liriano gave up back-to-back singles to Andres Torres and Tony Abreu, the tying run. The left-hander froze Buster Posey for the second out but then walked Hunter Pence, perhaps pitching around him. The walk backfired when Joaquin Arias line a 2-0 pitch into center field to tie the game. But the Pirates offense bailed out Liriano to get him the victory, just as they collected the previous season-high 16 hits and 11 runs for his season debut in New York.
“It’s a great thing for me,” Liriano said. “When you give up some runs early in the game, you’re still competing.”
Pirates Respond Early and Often
The Bucs answered the Giants’ 1st-inning run (a Hunter Pence RBI double) by starting the Bottom 1st with three straight hits, finished off by Andrew McCutchen’s line-drive RBI single to left. The top of the lineup struck again in the 3rd: Starling Marte single, Jordy Mercer single, McCutchen two-run double to left field. Gaby Sanchez singled, then McCutchen scored on a ground-ball double play to put the Pirates up 4-1.
After the Giants re-set the score in the Top 5th, the Pirates answered emphatically. Marte and Mercer singled to start the inning and make the top third of the order 8-for-8 at that point, and Marte got his first stolen base of the night. Marte’s goal on the bases is to “get more pressure on the pitcher, knowing Mercer and McCutchen are good hitters,” he said through Andrade.
Zito struck out McCutchen looking but walked Sanchez. Marte scored the go-ahead run when Russell Martin hit a ball that short-hopped first baseman Brandon Belt. Pedro Alvarez followed up by hitting an RBI double and Neil Walker knocked in two more runs. The Bucs led 8-4 off the four-run frame, then went up 10-4 the next inning with an Alex Presley pinch-hit solo home run and Gaby Sanchez RBI double off reliever Ramon Ramirez.
By The Numbers
Starling Marte, 2012: .257 BA, .300 OBP, .437 SLG, 27.5% strikeout rate
Starling Marte, 2013: .289 BA, .357 OBP, .426 SLG, 21.4% strikeout rate
Mercer, McCutchen and Sanchez each notched three hits, with McCutchen and Walker tying for a team-high three RBI.
“It was great to see,” Hurdle said. “Obviously we had tremendous production out of the top of the order. It always fuels the lineup.”
Bullpen Almost Lets Giants Back
San Francisco would not go softly, though. Reliever Justin Wilson allowed two one-out singles to Abreu and Posey, and Abreu scored when Jordy Mercer threw away a possible inning-ending double play. Arias then knocked an RBI single to right field and suddenly it was 10-6. Walker got one back immediately by leading off with a home run just over the right-field wall, originally ruled a double before video review.
The Pirates bullpen continued to hiccup with Tony Watson in the 8th. Brandon Crawford led off with a single after grounding into two double plays against Liriano. Watson got pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco to fly out and Torres to ground out, but Abreu doubled for his third hit and Posey cut the Pittsburgh lead to 11-8 by blooping a two-run single. The Giants ended up with 15 hits, including three from Abreu seven total off Wilson and Watson, though the relief staff still maintains a 2.92 ERA for second-best in the National League.
Closer Jason Grilli entered in a non-save situation after Andrew McCutchen scored an insurance run. He retired Arias, Belt and pinch-hitter Nick Noonan 1-2-3 to complete the contest in front of 19,966 fans. The win puts the Pirates 4.0 games ahead of the Colorado Rockies and 5.5 ahead of the Giants in the still-shaping-up race for the second Wild Card berth.
Back To Starling
Marte’s plate discipline is slightly better this season, improving to a 21.4% strikeout rate one year after posting a 27.5% K-rate. The improved pitch selection was evident Wednesday.
“It doesn’t matter how bad it was, or struggling. [I] just get focused on today’s at-bat. I just try to see more of the ball, especially today when the pitcher was behind in the count.”
The second-year player also continues to impress in left field. He is showing terrific range, as his 5.5 ultimate zone rating places him 8th among Major League outfielders and his 10 defensive runs saved put him 6th. Though such metrics are not all that reliable, Marte’s arm has held up many runners from trying to advance an extra base. He says through Andrade that sharing the outfield with McCutchen helps.
“It just makes [me] focus more on [my] work, try to be like him” and win a Gold Glove like McCutchen did, Marte said.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy was watching from the clubhouse Tuesday night, fulfilling his one-game suspension. Bochy will finish picking the National League All-Star roster in a few weeks, and Starling’s performance could take him from do-it-all star to genuine All-Star.