Marte's walk-off homer in 10th powers Pirates past Braves
David Freese earned his Stargell star even before he made the slide that saved the game.
Freese's slide wasn't as sexy as Starling Marte's two-run homer, which sealed the Pirates' 100th walk-off win at PNC Park. It won't stand out in the box score like the two key, scoreless innings tossed by reliever Trevor Williams.
Yet, Freese's gritty sprint to second base was pivotal in the Pirates' 6-5 victory in 10 innings Sunday against the Atlanta Braves. The comeback clinched the Pirates' first three-game sweep of the Braves in Pittsburgh since 1994.
"Little things, man," said first-base coach Kimera Bartee, whose duties include doling out Stargell stars to guys who make seismic plays. "Little things like that make a difference. That's why we give out those stars."
Trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning, the Pirates loaded the bases with one out against closer Jim Johnson. Freese, who worked a full-count walk, turned to talk to Bartee as Francisco Cervelli was announced as the pinch hitter.
"We were discussing (the play at second) before the ball was even hit," Freese said. "Doing it the 'right way,' as you would say nowadays. Go in hard, stay down. You can make contact, just don't veer."
Freese took a good lead, then peeked over his shoulder as first baseman Freddie Freeman moved a few steps off the bag. Freese extended his lead.
"No matter what happened next, David's getting a star from me just because of the good primary lead and the secondary (lead)," Bartee said. "The result made it even better."
Cervelli hit a grounder to short. Second baseman Brandon Phillips took the toss and tried to pivot for a double play. Freese came in hot with a clean, hard slide. Phillips got the out at second but couldn't plant his feet to throw the ball. Cervelli was safe, and Gregory Polanco scored to tie it at 4-4.
The Braves challenged the play, saying Freese violated MLB's one-year-old rule banning heavy-contact slides at second base.
"We did everything technically to the letter, so I was pretty confident," Bartee said.
Chatting with Bartee during the delay, first-base umpire Vic Carapazza said Freese obeyed the law. The folks in the MLB's war room in New York agreed — the replay review upheld the call.
"Just a good, old-fashioned baseball play," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Hard, aggressive baseball."
Freese got his slide down early and went straight to the bag, following the rules. However, he's also the kind of player who doesn't shy from a little contact.
"I like the old-school way, but that's just me," Freese said. "At that moment, that late in the game, you've got to get it done."
In the top of the 10th, Nick Markakis and Phillips hit back-to-back singles off Felipe Rivero (1-0). Tyler Flowers grounded to the left side, but third baseman Adam Frazier had trouble picking up the ball and Markakis scored.
"If I get that cleanly, we've got him at the plate," Frazier said. "I wanted to make up for it."
Leading off the bottom of the inning, Frazier boomed a double to center. Marte drilled the next pitch from Jose Ramirez 410 feet into the visitor's bullpen.
"I felt it," Marte said. "I knew I got barrel."
The rally made up for a subpar outing by right-hander Gerrit Cole. He went six innings and gave up three runs and eight hits, walked two and struck out four.
It took Cole 22 pitches to get through the first inning, when the Braves built a 2-0 lead.
"Location could have been more crisp today," Cole said. "But (I) bounced back and got some length, which was nice. I stuck with the process, understood that mistakes happen and we've got to keep moving forward."
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.