Pirates’ loss to Cardinals won’t be rookie James Marvel’s last chance
From the moment he knew he was making his major league debut until he was pulled in the sixth inning Sunday, James Marvel tried to stay calm.
For the most part, he was successful, and that might have been the grandest achievement of all, with 40 friends and family members, some traveling cross-country on short notice, watching him pitch.
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 2-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals, but Marvel’s presence was a big deal to his family and friends and, especially, to his father John, an executive with the NFL Network.
“When I talked to my dad,” Marvel said, “and when we found out I was pitching on Sunday (opening day for most of the NFL), he said, ‘I’ll be there. I might lose my job. But I’ll be there.’ ”
Speaking of jobs, Marvel may be pitching for one over the next three weeks. General manager Neal Huntington said Marvel, a 36th-round draft choice in 2015, will make three more starts through the end of the season. Next up is a date with the Cubs in Wrigley Field as the nearly 26-year-old rookie gets thrown into the teeth of his opponent’s quest for a wild-card berth.
“One day at a time,” Marvel said when a reporter was the first to break the news to him. “I’ll do whatever they ask of me.”
Huntington said Marvel, who won 16 of 21 decisions in Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis this season, earned this opportunity.
“Part of the process on adding James was we didn’t want to add him if it was going to be just a spot start,” Huntington said before the game. “As we’ve worked through some of the (pitchers) with injuries, with innings threshold, we realized we can get him four starts before the end of the season.
“He’s done everything in his power to earn that, and we want to reward him.”
Marvel was in command through five innings and ended up retiring 16 of 21 batters. He did not allow a hit until Marcell Ozuna singled in the fourth inning.
The Cardinals, who lead the National League Central by 4½ games, scored their only runs on Harrison Bader’s RBI single in the fifth and Paul Goldschmidt’s RBI double in the sixth.
“I thought I threw a good pitch to Goldschmidt (on a 3-2 count),” Marvel said. “That’s why he’s Paul Goldschmidt.”
Manager Clint Hurdle liked the fearlessness Marvel displayed, noting he threw three pitches or fewer to nine batters.
“Challenged hitters. Took the sting out of the bats,” Hurdle said.
“The composure that he had, the efficiency with which he worked, the gameplan he laid out beforehand, the conversations that he’s had with everybody. He’s a no-nonsense guy. (He said), ‘Here’s what I’m going to do. Here’s what I’ve been doing. Here’s what got me here. I’m going to go out here and see where it takes me.’ ”
After the game, Marvel spent 20 minutes with the crowd of people who dropped everything to find a way to Pittsburgh to watch him pitch.
“Just sharing the hugs and the words with them just now,” he said, near tears. “Probably the most grateful I’ve ever been in my career. In terms of the special moments, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Marvel said he woke up Sunday morning and had “some good nerves.”
Yet there were more emotions waiting for him when he walked out to the mound.
“I took the field and heard my family and friends just start cheering when they saw me,” he said. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”
He prides himself on blocking out outside noise when he’s at work, but he said, “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few instances where I heard them. That was special.”
Other than Marvel’s debut, the game offered little for the 18,363 at PNC Park until Hurdle and second baseman Adam Frazier were ejected in the seventh inning for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz.
“It’s been all weekend,” Hurdle said. “It was hard to watch. Go back and watch at-bats throughout the weekend. Just a culmination of the things. I thought we were short on a lot of calls behind home plate.”
Then, in the ninth, center fielder Starling Marte injured his left wrist making a diving catch of Bader’s looping liner. Marte said X-rays revealed no break, but he had the wrist wrapped after the game.
The Pirates dropped to 62-81, clinching their 23rd nonwinning record in the past 27 seasons.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .