Pirates' Marte, Walker held in check
The Pirates needed just one run in the ninth inning Monday to tie Game 4 of the National League Division Series — or two to win it in walk-off fashion and clinch a spot in the National League Championship Series.
Ordinarily, the ninth spot leading off the inning followed by Starling Marte and Neil Walker would have been a promising start for the Pirates. That hasn't been the case.
The St. Louis Cardinals have silenced the bats of both leadoff man Marte and No. 2 hitter Walker; they are a combined 1 for 31.
Walker got on base for the first time in the series by way of a two-out walk after Jordy Mercer struck out and Marte grounded to short, but Andrew McCutchen flied out to end the game.
“We got to find an answer here the day after tomorrow,” manager Clint Hurdle said following the 2-1 loss. “We would like to get a little better action up top. These guys are trying. They're working. The pitching has been challenging for them.
“They're gaining valuable playoff experience. They tried to work counts at times. I think a little patience might help at times, and the time you do take it, it seems like it's always a strike. We've just got to keep grinding. They have to get in there and keep trying. Both are capable.”
Walker entered the postseason batting .259 in the second half but just .207 (19 for 92) in September. Seven of those 19 hits were home runs, however, matching his total from the first four months of the season.
He was 2 for 5 in the wild-card game against the Reds but hasn't had success against the Cardinals. Walker said he has shortened his swing and is doing what he can to get back to the middle of the field, but stretches like this are no fun.
“I need to be better,” he said. “It's plain and simple. But they're pitching well. These are two very good pitching teams. It's not really a surprise that some guys have been held in check. One of their best hitters (Matt Carpenter) has been held in check, too. That's been a pretty important thing in the two games that we've won is keeping him off the base paths, their leadoff guy.”
Marte walked once and was hit by a pitch in Game 2 and collected his only hit of the series, a home run in the eighth inning of Game 2 with the Pirates leading, 6-1. But he went hitless in four at-bats in Games 1, 3 and 4.
Marte said, through bullpen catcher and translator Heberto Andrade, that he doesn't believe lack of experience in the postseason has been a factor.
“I'm just trying to have fun and play the game the way I always have,” Marte said. “This is the big leagues, but I've been in tight situations in the Dominican Republic when you play in the playoffs, and it's even louder than it is here. I understand it's the big leagues, but I don't feel pressure. I feel like I've been here before.”
Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.
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