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Starkey: Marte a 'special cat'

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

Take what you will from the Pirates' tough, 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday. There was plenty to pick apart.

I took this, in the form of a mental snapshot that will take a prominent place on the baseball shelf: Starling Marte's cannon shot into the right-center field bleachers, over the Trib Total Media sign, on a 95-mph fastball from Stephen Strasburg.

Wow.

“Special cat,” Pirates catcher Michael McKenry said.

Marte treated the Pirates' first national television audience of the season to what has become a fairly typical day for him. He again led off the first inning by getting on base — this time when he was plunked by a Strasburg heater.

Marte leads the majors in reaching base (19) in a team's first plate appearance. He then stole second (his 10th steal of the season) and raced to third on an errant throw.

The kid's so good that even his mistakes are exciting. Did you see him try to field a ball with his glove on his throwing hand on a misplay that turned into a triple for Ryan Zimmerman, then nearly throw out Zimmerman at third?

“I tried to stop (the ball),” Marte said, explaining the glove switch. “But you can't do that.”

I caught up to Marte at his locker stall, warned ahead of time that he isn't inclined to do one-on-one interviews without an interpreter.

He warmed up right away, though, when I asked if he's having fun.

“A lot. A lot,” he said. “I don't care if you're 0 for 5, 0 for 4, 2 for 3, whatever. Every time I'll have the same face. I'll be smiling, joking. That's me.”

He paused, then went on: “Somebody in the minors asked me one time why I was (smiling) when I was 0 for 5. I said, ‘Today, we have a bad today. You don't know tomorrow.' I have fun every day.”

That's obvious. And unlike with Pedro Alvarez, who was roundly booed after some poor at-bats dropped his average to .178, Marte has become a crowd favorite.

“I know in Pittsburgh they love how I play,” Marte said. “I work hard every day for the fans. I think they like me.”

We could sit here for hours and talk about the secondary issues that contribute to winning teams in any sport. Things like chemistry, coaching and depth. But we all know the most important ingredient: star power.

You need stars.

The Nationals have two of the brightest young superstars in the game in Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The Pirates have one in Andrew McCutchen. They'd love to see Alvarez claim that title. In the meantime, it sure looks like Marte is blooming into one before our eyes.

Yes, it's a long season. Baseball players must prove themselves consistently over a long period of time. But there's something about the way Marte carries himself that makes you believe he's in this for the long haul, that big numbers like his .513 slugging percentage are sustainable.

He is easily the team MVP thus far.

“He's very confident in what he can do: He knows what he can do,” McCutchen said. “If you have that at an early time in your career, it can take you a long ways because it's not always going to go your way.”

No, it's not. But in Marte's case, even if today is bad, you don't know tomorrow.

Tomorrow might be something special.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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