If the drive to the playoffs officially started tonight, it's certainly fair to say it started with a bang.
The debut of Starling Marte has been the most anticipated in Pittsburgh since Andrew McCutchen was called up on June 4, 2009. In that game, Cutch, batting leadoff, took two strikes and a ball before delivering a single up the middle on the first pitch he offered at as a major-leaguer. The MVP leader-in-the-clubhouse finished that day going 2-4 with 3 runs scored, a walk, an RBI and a stolen base. Not a bad debut.
Well, slide on over Andrew, because now you have company. Clint Hurdle penciled Starling Marte into the leadoff spot in Houston tonight, and Marte responded by hitting the first pitch over the left field wall. Dallas Kuechel delivered an 86-mph fastball middle-in, Marte turned on it and Twitter blew up. Marte became just the second Pirate ever to homer on his first pitch, the other being Walter Mueller on May 7, 1922, and the first to homer in his first at bat since Don Leppert on June 18, 1961. He becomes only the 28th player in major league hisory to homer on the first pitch and the 110th to homer in his first at bat. Pirates fans are drooling over the prospect that he may be the piece they've been dreaming about as the Bucs look not just to finish above .500, but make the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
Marte's homer was just the start for the Pirates. After a loud out by Neil Walker, McCutchen singled to left and Garrett Jones smoked an 84-mph middle-middle fastball deep into the right field bleachers to give the Bucs a 3-0. They would add two more in the second when Rod Barajas led off with a walk and Clint Barmes lifted a 75-mph change into the Crawford Boxes for his fifth homer of the year. A.J. Burnett came to bat with a 5-0 lead and that was more than he would need.
Burnett rolled through seven innings giving up only two hits before running into some trouble in the eighth as his velocity dipped into the high 80s after sitting 92-93 most of the game. Chris Johnson drilled an inside fastball into the stands in left to leadoff the inning, and after an out, Carlos Corporan homered to right center making it 5-2 and sending A.J. to the showers. And rest assured A.J. and every else took note of Corporan's bat flip. Expect him to wear one tomorrow. Burnett's final line: 7.1IP, 4H, 2R, 1BB, 5K, 103 pitches.
Brad Lincoln came on and, after walking this first batter, got out of the eighth. Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth and recorded his 30th save, but not without some of the adventures we've seen lately. He gave up a hit, a walk, threw two wild pitches and allowed a run. But he struck and two and secured the 5-3 win raising the Pirates record to 56-42, 2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds, who are off tonight.
Starling Marte finished the night 2-4 and looked good in all four at bats. If he's on the team August 1st, there is a pretty good chance Pirates are going to watch him play everyday for many years to come.
Oh, and the anniversary of he Jerry Meals game? Apparently no lasting effects in 2012.