Today in SB Nation's MLB awards, we'll tackle the Pirates' best defensive play of the season. I watched a bunch of video for this, including of a ton of plays by Starling Marte, some big throws by Gregory Polanco, and the Bucs' triple play back in May (which didn't make the cut because the Bucs actually didn't even look all that great making it). The one -- or ones -- I kept coming back to was two plays by Marte in the ninth inning against the Reds on July 31.
I actually didn't even cover that game -- it was the trade deadline, so I was probably taking a nap or something after firing sparks from my keyboard all day. I suspect some other fans missed it after the excitement earlier in the day, too, which is too bad, because it was a good one.
The Pirates had a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Melancon gave up a single to Brandon Phillips, then a sacrifice bunt and then a walk to Joey Votto. Todd Frazier then hit a hard grounder past third, and Marte charged in and threw a strike to Francisco Cervelli to easily cut Phillips down at the plate.
Then, on the very next play, with Votto representing the tying run at second, Marlon Byrd hit a liner to left. Marte ran in and to his right, then dove and made the game-ending catch, landing awkwardly on his wrist.
Though these were obviously both great plays, neither of them were off-the-charts ridiculous in a Web-Gems sort of way. But they came in quick succession and were hugely impactful -- Marte essentially preserved the Pirates' lead all by himself. And they were part of a broader pattern. Marte saved runs with his glove all year. You could, perhaps, make the case that Francisco Cervelli or maybe Jordy Mercer was the Pirates' best defender this year. Relative to his position, though, nobody was better than Marte, and the two plays he made in that ninth inning in late July show why his Gold Glove was so well deserved.