Starling Marte knew that he got a whole lot of the first pitch he saw from Braves reliever Jose Ramirez in the bottom of the tenth.
"I felt it, yes, I felt it," Marte said. "I knew I got the barrel and the wind was blowing so hard out, which helped me a little it. I knew I got that one."
With Adam Frazier on second and the Pirates down a run, the Pirates left fielder launched a high-arching blast that sent Braves centerfielder Ender Inciarte racing back towards the bullpen gate embedded in the left-center field wall. It wasn't a no-doubter off of the bat, but as Inciarte continued to scamper back the fly ball started to gain converts from the crowd. Marte was slow out of the box, watching the ball like a golfer waiting for a 7-iron shot to land safely on the green. After reaching the warning track, Inciarte took a few more steps and leapt up on to the fence and stretched his glove over the railing, but the ball was well beyond his reach and a Sunday celebration broke out in PNC Park.
Gerrit Cole was watching in the clubhouse video room.
"We were elated in here," Cole said. "It was fun. It's aways great to get a walk-off win."
The game-winning home run capped a 4-for-5 day for Marte. For the series, the he collected seven hits, four runs and four RBIs.
"Everybody in here is good," Marte said. "No matter what happens we're going to fight every inning."
The Pirates might be good -- that will be discovered over the course of the season. But Gerrit Cole already knows that Marte is really good, and even perhaps the best player with which he's ever played.
"Fantastic player," Cole said. "I think probably the only five-tool player I've ever played with."
Throughout most of the afternoon the game belonged to Braves starter Julio Teheran. With the exception of a three-hit, two-run fourth in which both the runs were unearned, the Pirates were unable to mount much of anything offensively. But when the Braves went to their bullpen with a 4-2 lead, the game turned.
After scoring a run in the eighth, Gregory Polanco led off the ninth with a single. A passed ball moved him over to second and Josh Bell drew a walk. With runners on first and second, Jordy Mercer popped out on a bunt attempt. David Freese walked, which brought Francisco Cervelli to the plate with a chance to tie or win the game. Cervelli promptly knocked the first pitch out to third baseman, Adonis Garcia, who started the double play attempt. However, by the time the ball got to Brandon Phillips, Freese was bearing down and starting his slide into second. Phillips jumped to avoid contact and was unable to get off a throw to first. Polanco scored from third and the game was tied.
The Braves immediately challenged the slide under the "Chase Utley rule," and for a few minutes everything came to a halt. Afterwards, Freese said he wasn't too worried about the play being overturned, adding that he is no fan of the rule to begin with.
"I like the old school way," he said. "I understand trying to keep players on the field, but it is our decision to play the game."
Cole manages to go six
Braves hitters ambushed Cole early, hitting a deep fly ball, a solo homer and single over the first six pitches. After allowing two runs in the first, the right hander didn't really settled in, but he did only give up one more run over the next five innings.
"His outing was indicative of how we had to play today, just grit," Clint Hurdle said. "Missing location early. I thought he maintained his composure and kept his rhythm and pace good. Nice blue-collar job out there for us to keep us in the game."
Cole allowed eight hits and three runs over six innings. He struck out four and walked two.
"My location could have been more crisp today," Cole said. "But we bounced back and got some length, so that was nice."
The rest of the story
Today's weekly media scrum with Neal Huntington didn't cover much new ground or break any news. Most of the conversation revolved around defensive shifts and the mini-imbroglio that followed Sandy Leon's shift-busting bunt on Opening Day. Basically the organizations position is that over the long term shifts are better than no shifts, but most everyone knows that by now. However, Huntington did add a little more backstory to the rather famous A.J Burnett rant of 2013: "I didn't have a problem with Clint Barmes. I had a problem with the [bleeping] shift."
"The funny thing is we were where A.J. wanted us and not where we wanted to be positioned," Huntington said. "A.J. threw his hands up in frustration because he thought we were out of position when we really should have been where the ball went."