Alvarez, Marte homer in 9th as Pirates rally past Blue Jays
If ever there was a time to press, it was in the ninth inning Friday for Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and the Pirates.
Before the late heroics leading to a Pirates' 6-5 walk-off win against the Blue Jays, the club had stranded 38 runners in a 30-hour period. They had arrived to the park in a weary state, landing at Pittsburgh International Airport at 3:33 a.m. Friday after being swept by Baltimore in a doubleheader Thursday. They entered PNC Park having lost of 15 of their last 19 games.
With one out and trailing 5-3 in the ninth inning, Alvarez didn't want Neil Walker, who was on first base with his third hit of the game, to become the 11th stranded runner of the night. The Pirates had already squandered two bases-loaded opportunities earlier in the game.
Before the game, Alvarez talked about not deviating from his new don't-do-too-much approach at the plate. While Alvarez entered batting .194, the Pirates believed he was making strides — seen in his increased walk rate, decreased strikeout rate.
The process led to results in the ninth inning. Alvarez redirected a 94 mph Sergio Santos fastball into the right-field seats to tie the score at 5-5.
“You have to stay stubborn with your approach regardless of the results and just hope you get the outcome you want,” Alvarez said. “If you (press) you'll find yourself in a snowball effect and keep getting worse.”
A day earlier in Baltimore, the struggling Marte was dropped from the leadoff spot. He hit sixth Monday, an attempt by manager Clint Hurdle to reduce pressure on the Pirates' left fielder.
One batter after Alvarez in the ninth, Marte smashed a Santos pitch over the center-field wall for the game-winner. Marte flipped his bat at the plate. He was met by teammates at home plate, a team that has had so little celebrate since early April.
“Everything's the same,” Marte said of hitting lower in the lineup. “I try to do my job and put the ball in play. That's what I do. Nothing different … (The pitch) was a little up. A good spot for hitting.”
The Pirates entered the game as one of the unluckiest teams in baseball, according to batting average on balls in play. The Pirates entered with a .259 average on balls in play, ranking 29th in baseball. League average is around .300. Hurdle believed the Pirates' luck would change as long as they remain committed to the approach.
“That's all we kept talking about. Stay relentless in your pursuit. Keep getting out there. Keep scratching, keep clawing, keep playing,” Hurdle said. “(Marte) has had really good, clean, aggressive at-bats the last three games he's played down there. None bigger than that one. It's been a while since Pedro was able to ride one out of the ballpark. Those kinds of things can create more momentum and more traction.”
The ninth-inning heroics were in part necessary as Gerrit Cole was not at the top of his game.
Cole has allowed four or more runs in only five career starts, but three of those starts occurred over his last five outings. Cole allowed seven hits and four runs Friday.
Cole allowed a two-run homer to Colby Rasmus in the fourth that gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead and an RBI double to Jose Bautista in the sixth that gave Toronto a 4-2 lead. Cole threw just 11 of his 20 curveballs for strikes as Blue Jays hitters appeared to key on his 95-97 mph fastball. But the Pirates bullpen allowed just one run over the final four innings and in the ninth the Pirates' bats finally arrived — better late than never.