Marte's game-saving throw
Thursday night, Jeff Locke explained that part of what makes the Pirates' outfield so special and a "pleasure" to pitch in front of is how they disrupt the opponent's running game.
"You watch third base coaches, we want coaches on the other team to contest those sacrifice flies and what not, because that is when those guys get to show off," Locke said. "All of them can throw, all of them have speed, all of them can make plays."
Friday night in the seventh inning, with Gerrit Cole up over 100 pitches and the Pirates clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Rockies had a man on first with two outs. Charlie Blackmon promptly hit a line drive single to left. As Starling Marte slid to his right to field the ball, third base coach, Stu Cole, was suddenly faced with a difficult, split second, decision. Under duress, he decided to send catcher Dustin Garneau home.
It is fun to imagine that when Marte realized he was being challenged that he felt as calm and confident as a cat about to pounce on its prey. And, as turns out, he basically did.
"I didn't feel any pressure because I know how hard I can throw to home plate," Marte said. "I know I can control the ball and throw it home. It was in my mind before he hit the ball."
Marte wasn't the only one feeling coldly confident as he loaded to make the throw. Cole was hoping the third base coach would try sending Garneau home: "I'm thinking, if he goes, we got the out, and he went."
The ball reached home ahead of Garneau and Francisco Cervelli laid a sprawling tag. The crowd leapt up and shook the park with a sudden roar. Cole raised his fist and pointed out to his left-fielder, and the rest of the team celebrated on the rail of the dugout.
Over the last couple of days, Clint Hurdle has been asked a lot of questions about the offensive production of his outfielders; and, repeatedly, he has brought to the topic back to their defense. Friday night was a reminder that any conversation about this dominant outfield should always include its prowling defense.
"The arm strength and the accuracy is as good of a combination as there is," Hurdle said of Marte. "You never take him for granted. It's a game-changing play. I think he looks for those opportunities. He thinks he's automatic, he not, but he hasn't been off line [often]."
Team Defense lifts Cole
Cole followed up his masterful performance in Wrigley Field with one in which leaned heavily on his defense.
"That's the story of the game," Cole said. "That's world-class effort on how to play defense in the major leagues."
The right-hander navigated through seven contact-laden innings and allowed only one run. He walked one and failed to register a strikeout for the first time in his career. Indeed, there were only two, true outcomes by the Rockies' offense all night: a walk to Carlos Gonzalez and in the sixth, and a deep home run by Nolan Arenado.
The Pirates piled up an assortment of defensive gems behind their ace tonight. In the first and the second, they notched double plays by being shifted perfectly. Cervelli threw out Blackmon trying to steal in the third. Of course, there's Marte's throw, and then David Freese diving to stop to his left in the seventh. Finally, Marte closed the game by making a sprinting grab in left-center field. It was about as suffocating of a defensive performance as you're going to see.
"There was an invisible shield at home plate for both teams," Hurdle said. "Pitchers made pitches and guys made plays."
Cole best summed up the night, saying simply, "Stellar defense."