The flip of the bat and the slow exit from the batters' box clearly indicated what Starling Marte later confirmed: He knew.
A pitch from Toronto Blue Jays reliever Sergio Santos sailed out into the night, but Marte didn't need to watch. He knew it was gone.
"I feel it," he said after his walk-off home run gave the Pirates a 6-5 victory against the Blue Jays Friday night at PNC Park. "I don't have to see it."
The win broke a three-game losing streak that started Sunday in St. Louis, spanned three consecutive days off including two rainouts in Baltimore and a doubleheader loss Thursday against the Orioles. It came about because of Marte, who, after recent struggles, was taken out of the leadoff spot, and Pedro Alvarez, whose two-run homer in the ninth tied the score and who also had performed poorly at the plate recently.
"That's the kind of thing that can create more momentum and more traction," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
With the Pirates trailing, 5-3, Neil Walker opened the ninth with a single against Santos. It was Walker's third hit of the game. Two batters later, Alvarez hit his seventh homer into the seats in right-center field to make it 5-5.
"Obviously it felt really good," Alvarez said. "Kept us in the game."
Two batters after that, Marte crushed a 2-1 fastball into the Pirates bullpen.
"He works really hard, he's a huge part of this team," Alvarez said of Marte. "The last few days have been really good for him."
Alvarez had not homered since April 17. In that span, he had hit .205 with a .271 on-base percentage in 48 plate appearances. Marte was 7 for 39 (.179) with a .256 on-base percentage in the 10 games before Friday night, prompting Hurdle to move Marte to the sixth spot in the batting order.
The ninth-inning homers followed eight innings of putting runners on base, which had been a struggle much of the season, but also stranding them or prematurely erasing them. The Pirates collected 17 hits, but went 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base.
Along the way, Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5, Marte finished 4 for 5 and Tony Sanchez went 2 for 4.
The Blue Jays took a 5-3 lead, getting one run in the first, two runs in the fourth and a run each in the fifth and sixth. Former Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista went 2 for 5 with two doubles and Colby Rasmus hit a two-run home run.
Starter Gerrit Cole left after a shaky five-inning start for the Pirates, and Justin Wilson allowed a run in the sixth.
Enter rookie Casey Sadler, making his major league debut, in the seventh.
Sadler had not relieved since 2012, although he warmed up Thursday in Baltimore, so the sensation was fresh in his mind. He also hadn't faced hitters, he said, in 10 days.
Due up: Melky Cabrera, Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, the Nos. 2-3-4 hitters in the Blue Jays order. Welcome to the show.
"For them to trust me enough to put me in that situation when you're [facing] the meat of the order, it meant a lot," Sadler said.
He retired Cabrera and Bautista before walking Encarnacion, but Marte made a sliding catch on Juan Francisco to end the inning.
"He was able to come in, keep the game right where it was," Hurdle said.
"He kept it right there at a two-run deficit."
In three consecutive innings, the Pirates ended or curtailed scoring chances with a double play. Jordy Mercer drove in a run in the second with a double-play grounder, but that was all they got. Gaby Sanchez ended a scoring threat that had netted one run when he bounced into a double play in the third, and Mercer again hit into one in the fourth.
Once Alvarez and Marte had their say, the earlier missed opportunities didn't matter.
"It was more along the lines of the what we do and how we do it," Hurdle said.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published May 2, 2014 10:34 PM