Martin caps Pirates' comeback with walk-off single
Russell Martin has brought defensive acumen to the North Shore, but the Pirates' catcher also has towed a wealth of big-game, big-moment experience to a city starved for meaningful baseball.
Martin wanted to be called upon to pinch hit Thursday with two outs and a runner in scoring position in the 10th inning of a tied game. He was summoned and delivered, collecting his fourth walk-off of the season down the left-field line to score Josh Harrison in a 5-4 Pirates win over the Marlins, securing a series sweep.
“I don't have fear in those situations. I'm not afraid to fail,” said Martin, who added he enjoys the way his focus heightens, how the game seems to slow, when the pressure increases. “I think that helps me. I enjoy the moment.”
The team's 70th win — its 28th comeback and a PNC Park-record ninth walk-off — was set up by the bullpen, which threw five scoreless innings to allow the Pirates' bats to erase a four-run deficit.
Although Pirates fans — the team drew the second-largest crowd (33,646) in stadium history for a 12:35 p.m. start — still are familiarizing themselves with big moments this late in the season, Martin is well acquainted with high stakes. He spent the first seven years of his career in the New York and Los Angeles markets, where he combined to log 135 postseason plate appearances with the Yankees and Dodgers.
“I believe all of us prepare for our future through our past,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “His past experience playing in L.A., playing in New York, the environments, the games he's played, things he's done. ... He has a slow heartbeat.”
Martin earns high marks for his poise.
After falling behind, 0-2, in the 10th, he worked the count to 3-2, laying off pitches out of the zone from Steve Ames.
“His fastball was 88-90 (mph). I knew he wasn't going to overpower me,” Martin said. “I had a feeling they didn't want to get beat with fastball, so in the back of my mind I was ready for the breaking ball.”
He got one and ripped it down the line, scoring Harrison. Teammates mobbed him the center of the infield.
The afternoon was supposed to belong to Gerrit Cole and Jose Fernandez, but neither of the prized rookies had his best command.
After settling down from a two-run first, Cole left a slider over the plate to Marlins rookie Christian Yelich with a man on in the fifth. Yelich slashed the pitch over the left-field wall for his first major league home run, a two-run shot that staked the Marlins a 4-0 lead.
“There's not a lot of mechanical things you can fix while you're out there,” said Cole, who allowed six hits and four runs over five innings, striking out three.
Fernandez also missed his spots. He walked four and required 101 pitches to get through five innings. He allowed two runs — both in the fifth — on five hits and struck out five. Chasing Fernandez early was key as the Pirates won the battle of the bullpens.
In the seventh, former Pirate reliever Chad Qualls loaded the bases. He was relieved by Mike Dunn, who gave up Tuesday's game-winning homer to Harrison. Neil Walker skied a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Jose Tabata to cut the Marlins' lead to 4-3. After walking Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Webb relieved Dunn and faced Gaby Sanchez, who hit a sac fly to right to tie the score.
Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth, Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth and Jared Hughes a scoreless 10th, setting up another moment for Martin.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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