Reporting Colin Dunlap
In a greater context, maybe Starling Marte’s most embarrassing moment as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates — and one that cost the club a pivotal game – will turn out to be a huge positive.
Certainly, you might think I’m crazy.
That’s nothing new; take a number.
You can hear that same emotion fired at me nightly from 10p.m.-2a.m. on 93.7 The Fan, but bear with me on this one …
Who can forget what happened late into the night on Tuesday, when, in the ninth inning and his team up a run, Marte nonchalantly played a fly ball hit his way in left field.
There was one out and should have been two.
Instead, three batters later, the game was tied when Allen Craig (who hits something like 1.093 with runners in scoring position) singled to right to make it 3-3.
And, what seemed like 22 hours after the Craig single, the Cardinals won with a walkoff single by Andron Chambers in the bottom of the 14th.
The cameras all twisted in on Marte’s gaffe.
The focus was on him; the fingers pointed his way.
They should have been.
Indeed, he played the biggest part in thrusting his team from what looked like a certain win to a rotten loss in the throes of a pennant race against the team the Pirates are tussling with in the National League Central.
Just after the game, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle put it eloquently, as he told ROOT Sports, “There are some hard lessons learned up here from time to time.”
The words were perfect.
But here is the crux of it all: Perhaps it was the best thing that could have happened to Marte.
Perhaps flubbing a can of corn in front of 40,243 at Busch Stadium as the Pirates seem destined for the postseason this year could turn out to be one of the vital moments as this 24-year-old star continues to grow.
From my vantage point, it just might have served as the perfect recalibration moment, the best “I better get real serious about this” instant for Marte as the Pirates head down what shapes up to be this incredibly-exciting stretch run.
That isn’t to say Marte wasn’t serious about all this before, but a wake-up call (even the hard way) is never a bad thing.
And think about what happened in the immediate aftermath.
There was no dressing down by Hurdle, no ranting and raving and frenzied finger-pointing by the skipper.
Everyone knew who screwed up and, rather than exacerbate Marte’s embarrassment, the club decided to collectively pat him on the backside and pick him up.
Heck, a few innings later, centerfielder Andrew McCutchen (the undeniable face of the franchise) called off Marte on a 50/50 ball in left-center and playfully turned and said something to his counterpart.
It was in that very moment that you knew this club wasn’t going to let Marte’s blunder linger, that they couldn’t undo the mistake but could work toward flipping it into a teaching moment.
Hell, they even smiled about it.
Then came Wednesday, when the lineups were tacked to the wall inside Busch Stadium as the Pirates were mired in a four-game losing skid and the Marte drop still the main talking point amongst Pirates faithful.
It would have been perfectly acceptable for Hurdle to give Marte the day off, give the young kid a day of rest to clear his mind following a loss which he, pretty much, butterfingered away.
Hurdle had none of it.
Instead, Marte was right back in there, hitting leadoff and playing left.
He had a key two-run double in the fourth inning in what turned out to a streak-stopping, 5-1 win.
Would this all have turned out the same had the young star not dropped that easy chance on Tuesday night as the Pirates had what looked to be a sure win? Who knows.
But I know I feel strongly about this: Sometimes the best way to gain some perspective and make sure you redeploy 100 percent of your focus is through a mistake.
That just might have happened when a baseball bounced out of Marte’s glove in St. Louis the other night.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.