Starling Marte took one swing and watched the ball fly. He rounded first base, raising his right hand and pointing the other toward the Pirates’ dugout. His teammates rushed toward him at home plate, celebrating a game they did not lead until Marte finished his trip around the bases. Marte’s walk-off blast in the 10th inning completed the second of the Bucs’ two late-inning comebacks as they beat the Braves, 6-5, on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
The Pirates forced extra innings by stringing together a rally in the ninth against closer Jim Johnson — a single, two walks and a savvy slide by David Freese. Then Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips hit back-to-back singles to begin the 10th against left-hander Felipe Rivero, and Markakis scored on a groundout by catcher Tyler Flowers. Third baseman Adam Frazier had a chance to throw home but bobbled the ball, giving Markakis time to cross the plate and give the Braves a 5-4 lead. Frazier then led off the 10th with a double against reliever Jose Ramirez, and Marte crushed the first pitch he saw, a 97.9-mph fastball. The ball came off his bat at 104.8 mph, according to Statcast™, and landed a projected 410 feet away in the Braves’ bullpen.
“I know I got the barrel,” Marte said. “The wind was hard out, which helped me. I knew I got that one.”
Julio Teheran cruised through seven innings, allowing only two unearned runs on six hits and a walk while striking out four as he outdueled the Pirates’ Opening Day starter, Gerrit Cole. He was supported mostly by Freddie Freeman, who finished 4-for-5 with two homers, a double, three runs scored and a stolen base. Freeman went deep against Cole in the fifth inning and blasted a slider from Antonio Bastardo onto the concourse in right-center field in the seventh.
“Freeman had a day,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Fortunately for us, we had a better day.”
Cole gave up two runs in the first, one of them on a homer by Dansby Swanson, but settled down after that. He exited after allowing three runs over six innings in his second start of the season. Glad to see Teheran out of the game, the Pirates pulled within a run in the eighth inning, scoring on a single by Marte — one of his four hits on the day — and an error by left fielder Jace Peterson. They rallied again to tie it in the ninth, then again to win in the 10th.
“You can’t give away that many runs and that many extra outs and expect to win games,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s as simple as that. You’ve got to make plays better than we do.
With two outs and a man on second base in the fourth inning, Pirates first baseman Josh Bell pulled a line drive that glanced off Freeman’s glove and bounced into foul territory for an RBI double that made it a 2-1 game. Bell came around to score quickly as shortstop Jordy Mercer swatted a game-tying single to center field. The rally may not have started if Freeman had caught Bell’s hard liner, but Freeman quickly put the Braves back on top. In the fifth, Freeman jumped on a first-pitch curveball from Cole and crushed it over the left-field wall.
“We’re giving them extra outs. It started with me,” Freeman said. “I need to catch that ball and it’s a pickoff there. They ended up scoring two runs that inning. We’re just not catching the ball and fielding the ball right now.”
The most important play in the Pirates’ ninth-inning rally may not have been a hit or a walk, but rather the hard slide Freese took into second base to break up a potential game-ending double play. Freese walked to load the bases for pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli, who hit a ground ball to third base. Adonis Garcia threw to Phillips at second, forcing out Freese, but Freese’s slide — a “good, old-fashioned baseball play,” as Hurdle called it — prevented Phillips from making the turn and allowed Gregory Polanco to score from third. The Braves challenged the play, asking for a review to see if Freese violated the slide rule, but the call on the field was confirmed.
“In that moment, that late in the game, you’ve got to get it done,” Freese said. “It’s not really on the scorecard or anything, but you hustle and you just try to help the team.”
Freeman joined Marcus Giles (July 28, 2003) and Chipper Jones (Aug. 20, 2000) as the only players in Braves history to have four hits, two home runs and a stolen base in one game. He became the franchise’s first player to homer twice in a four-hit game since his good friend Dan Uggla did it on June 5, 2012.
The Pirates swept the Braves in Pittsburgh for the first time since April 29-May 1, 1994, when the Bucs reeled off three straight wins at Three Rivers Stadium against Steve Avery, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
After enjoying an off-day in Miami on Monday, Atlanta will begin a three-game series against the Marlins on Tuesday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Bartolo Colon will get the start in what will be the third home opener the Braves have experienced this year.