Best news from Texas: Starling Marte’s bat comes alive in 11th inning
Perhaps no one has noticed, but the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t won a game the normal way — you know, in nine innings — since April 14 (and they haven’t done it at home since April 7).
Since their most recent nine-inning victory at PNC Park, they’ve played four extra-inning games, winning them all. They also defeated the San Francisco Giants in five innings.
More significantly, they were winless in a full game since the horrific collision between shortstop Erik Gonzalez and Starling Marte on April 19. The next day, they beat the Giants in the rain-shortened game and, then, lost eight in a row before rallying Tuesday night from a 3-0 ninth-inning deficit to win, 6-4, against the Texas Rangers in 11 innings. Maybe you missed it. The game didn’t end until after midnight in Pittsburgh.
Star Power. 💪 pic.twitter.com/Eui8XLOzOj
— Pirates (@Pirates) May 1, 2019
What was significant about that game? Other than the rally and contributions from Texans Josh Bell and Kyle Crick and former Ranger Keone Kela, it was the re-emergence of Marte in the lineup for the first time since the collision left him with a bruised abdominal wall and ribs.
It’s too early in the season to call the Pirates’ situation hopeless. At 13-14, they are only five games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, albeit in fourth place. Plus, they are in the wild-card mix, only 2 1/2 games out.
But if the Pirates have any hope of rising to the level of a serious contender, Marte must be one of the main catalysts. He struck out three times and stranded four runners in his first game in 11 days, but his two-run homer in the 11th was the difference. That was because Felipe Vazquez gave up a homer to the Rangers’ Joey Gallo in the bottom of the inning that was timed at 108.7 mph coming off his bat.
That small margin of error Chris Archer has mentioned can be enlarged just by the team scoring more runs.
Marte is slashing .200/.241/.400, which is embarrassing for a player of his talent level, but his three homers and 11 RBIs are second on the team to Bell.
Getting Marte back in the lineup on a daily basis and Gregory Polanco re-discovering his power bat would make a big difference in a lineup that has struggled through most of this road trip. In his seven games since returning from shoulder surgery, Polanco has seven hits, but six of them are singles. The Pirates need the Polanco who had a .499 slugging percentage last season.
Here are some other observations?stats/trends from the Pirates’ first 27 games. Remember, it’s only 16.7 percent of the season.
• The Pirates collected 14 hits Tuesday night, a high for the season and the first time they’ve been in double digits since April 12.
• Vazquez recorded his seventh save, which is more than half of the team’s victories.
• The Pirates lead the majors in extra-inning runs per game (.41) by a wide margin. The San Diego Padres are second at .23. They have played in seven and currently are on a five-game winning streak in such games.
• After 12 appearances and 10 2/3 innings, Francisco Liriano still has an 0.00 ERA. He is third among Pirates relief pitchers with 14 strikeouts.
• More impressive pitching stats: Crick (.86) and Joe Musgrove (.91) have WHIPs under 1.00, which means they’ve allowed fewer walks and hits than their total innings.
• Francisco Cervelli, who is hitting .175, left the game after being hit on the wrist by a pitch. His backup, Elias Diaz, is 2 for 16 in five games since fighting off the virus that plagued him throughout spring training.
— Pirates (@Pirates) May 1, 2019
• Bryan Reynolds got his first major-league homer and RBI, pushing his slash line to .423/.423/.731 in eight games. He has yet to draw a walk. Those facts together indicate he’s taking an aggressive approach at the plate, a good sign for a rookie.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .