Marte homers, Pirates win in rookie's debut
HOUSTON — Starling Marte insisted he would not be nervous when he stepped to the plate as the Pirates' leadoff batter Thursday in his big league debut against the Houston Astros. All the hype, he said, would not conquer him.
“No, no, no,” Marte said, shaking his head and grinning. “I'm just going to have fun and play.”
The first pitch from left-hander Dallas Keuchel was an 86-mph cutter. Marte launched it over the wall in left-center field, becoming the third Pirate to homer in his first at-bat in the majors.
Marte 1, Hype 0.
“I got goosebumps,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That was a swing that touched a lot of people.”
Marte's blast was the first of three homers hit by the Pirates, who hung on for a 5-3 win. Right-hander A.J. Burnett (12-3) was sharp, allowing two runs and four hits in 7 1⁄3 innings. The Pirates pulled within two games of idle Cincinnati in the NL Central race.
Marte added a fifth-inning single to go 2 for 4. It was the perfect way to forget it was the anniversary of umpire Jerry Meals' blown call in an extra-innings loss in Atlanta that sent the Pirates' 2011 season into a tailspin.
Marte's home run ignited a quick start for the Pirates. Garrett Jones and Clint Barmes each hit a two-run homer to build a 5-0 lead after two innings.
“Before the game, I told somebody in the dugout that if (Keuchel) threw a fastball over the middle, I'd take a hack at it,” Marte said. “That's exactly what I did.”
The Pirates brought up Marte from Triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .286 with 12 homers, and sent down outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. The move had been anticipated for weeks, to the point where Marte grew weary of being asked by fans and reporters when he'd get the call.
“The closer I got, the more I thought about it,” Marte said through interpreter Luis Silverio. “I thank God for this opportunity with the Pirates. I hope it's going to be a long career — 15 or 20 years.”
Marte's mother died when he was 10, so he was raised by his grandmother. She was the first one he called to share the happy news.
“She was pretty proud. She was crying,” he said. “Then I started calling friends, girlfriends and everybody else.”
Girlfriends? As in, more than one?
“Well ... he's an honest kid,” Silverio said with a laugh.
Hurdle said there was not one factor that nudged the Pirates to finally pull the trigger on Marte's career. In the past couple of weeks, Alex Presley (who's hitting .231 with 14 RBI) and utility infielder Drew Sutton (who looked lost defensively) shared time in left field.
“We're looking for a little more stability and more production,” Hurdle said. “Marte will give us a better option in left field than what we've gotten from the combined efforts of the other guys.”
Marte's arrival essentially makes Presley a bench player. Garrett Jones will get most of the starts in right.
“We brought Starling up to play,” Hurdle said. “It might not be every day, but he's going to be playing.”
The decision to bat Marte in the leadoff spot was a no-brainer.
“If I hit him second, I don't have a leadoff guy basically,” Hurdle said. “It's a big day for him. It's a big day for our Latin American program, for our Dominican academy, for (Latin American scouting director) Rene Gayo. This is a big day in a lot of different ways and for all the right reasons, so why not just lead him off?”
A few hours before the game, Hurdle called Marte into his office. The affable, veteran skipper seemed genuinely charmed by Marte's bubbly personality and youthful excitement.
“Clint told me this is the same baseball (as in the minors),” Marte said. “Be happy, don't try to do too much.”