By Will Graves
August 22, 2015
Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte (6) is greeted by his teammates after hitting a bottom-of-the-ninth baseball game-winning home run off of San Francisco Giants' pitcher George Kontos Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Starling Marte's confidence can be an unwieldy weapon. There is nothing the Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder thinks he can't do on a baseball diamond.
That mindset potentially cost the Pirates a valuable run on Saturday against the San Francisco Giants. A short time later, it won them the game.
Marte hit a solo home run off George Kontos into the sun-drenched bleachers in left field with two outs in the ninth inning, lifting the Pirates to a 3-2 victory on a brilliant afternoon that felt more like early October than late August.
''He's an exciting player,'' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ''He sometimes tries to get some things done and make some things happen.''
Even when they don't work out.
Marte's second career walkoff came two innings after he was easily caught trying to steal third in a tie game.Jung Ho Kang's second solo homer of the game shortly after Marte made his way back to the dugout erased some of the sting, sure, but then again Marte isn't sure there was anything to apologize for.
''I'm going to keep doing it,'' Marte said. ''If they give me a base, I'm going to take it.''
Facing Kontos (2-2) in the ninth, Marte waited on a fastball and didn't miss it to set a career high with his 16th homer of the season.
''I felt I was doing a good job of delivering my pitches, hitting my spots,'' Kontos said. ''But one pitch I didn't execute as well I'd like and I think he was sitting on it and took advantage of it.''
Kang hit his 11th and 12th homers for the Pirates, who didn't leave a runner on base. Mark Melancon (3-1) needed six pitches to get through the top of the ninth to set up Marte's winner as the Pirates improved to 18-4 against the NL West this season. Pittsburgh's bullpen has won 18 straight decisions, the longest streak in the majors since 1909.
''We were able to do some things we could play over and pitch over,'' Hurdle said.
Having San Francisco starter Mike Leake take a relatively early exit helped.
Leake showed no ill effects from the left hamstring strain that landed him on the disabled list on Aug. 3. He allowed one hit - Kang's lined shot to center in the fifth - and struck out six against one walk. Giants manager Bruce Bochy, however, decided to pull Leake for pinch-hitter Kelby Tomlinson with one out in the seventh and the go ahead run on third even though Leake only needed 77 pitches to get 18 outs.
''He was done,'' Bochy said. ''It'd gone far enough. It had been a while since he last pitched.''
The move didn't work out. Tomlinson lined out and Nori Aoki hit a grounder to end the threat. Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole, covering the bag, gave a fist pump as he collected the throw from Pedro Alvarez to finish off his best start in nearly a month.
The All-Star surrendered one run on three hits in seven innings, walking three and striking out eight.
''We played hardball all day,'' Cole said.
Hunter Strickland came on for Leake and appeared to get out of a jam when Marte was caught stealing at third. Kang hit the next pitch 424 feet into the bullpen to put the Pirates up 2-1.
Pittsburgh's normally reliable bullpen, however, faltered. Matt Duffy led off the eighth with a walk from Joakim Soria and eventually scored on a wild pitch to tie the game.
Marte was ready when Kontos delivered to push the Pirates to 25 games over .500 (73-48) and give them a little more breathing room over San Francisco in the run for one of the two National League wild-card spots.
Cole is engaged to Amy Crawford, the younger sister of San Francisco outfielder Brandon Crawford. Cole got the better of his future brother-in-law in the second inning when Marte reached up at the wall in left to take away what would have been Crawford's 20th homer of the year.
''That was a good one to rob,'' Cole said with a laugh. ''(Marte) picked a good one.''
Giants: The team is optimistic OF Angel Pagan is close to a return from right knee tendinitis that landed him on the disabled list on Aug. 10. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection in the knee, with promising results. ... Bochy said the team is hoping to get 2B Joe Panik back by the first week of September.
The series wraps up on Sunday night when Ryan Vogelsong (9-8, 3.93 ERA) faces Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano (8-6, 3.35). Vogelsong hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his six starts since July 5. The Pirates have won each of Liriano's last nine starts.