Marte, Pirates defeat Astros, 5-3
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HOUSTON -- The Pirates waited and waited and waited for the right time to call up Starling Marte, their prized outfield prospect. Marte didn't wait long to make his mark.
First pitch. First swing. First home run.
Marte led off the game -- and his career -- with a first-pitch home run, sparking the Pirates to a 5-3 victory against the Houston Astros Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
"This is a dream come true for me," Marte said before the game, as interpreted by first-base coach Luis Silverio.
It could be a wish come true for the Pirates, who have been looking for an impact bat for months while Marte pounded 20 homers in Class AAA Indianapolis.
"I'm pretty humble, from where I'm coming from," Marte said. "I'm from a very low-income family, and I'm very excited to be here in the big leagues. I'm just looking forward to whatever I can do."
As he stepped to the plate for his first career at-bat -- with concerns about how he would handle major league pitching and the pressure of a pennant race -- Marte tapped Astros catcher Carlos Corporan on the shin-guards, a common greeting, and dug in against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel fired with an 86-mph cut fastball that he left up in the zone. Marte cranked it to left-center for the Pirates' second leadoff home run this season.
"I got goosebumps when he hit it," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Marte said he planned to give the home run ball to his grandmother, who helped raise him.
He made his major league debut with confidence, not nervousness. He can credit that partly to a strong spring training in which he hit .520 with three home runs in 12 games. At the time, Hurdle told the 23-year-old he wanted him to focus on having fun -- and not on the pressure to produce.
"This has more meaning now," Hurdle said. "He understands where we are in our season because he's been watching it. He understands that he doesn't have to do it all. He doesn't have to be the guy. He's our left fielder who's batting leadoff tonight."
That message was reiterated Thursday afternoon before Marte's first swing.
"Respect everything and fear nothing," Hurdle told him. "It is a bigger arena, but it's the same game."
He became the third Pirate to homer in his first career at-bat -- and the first since Don Leppert did it June 18, 1961. In a four-year career, Leppert hit 15 home runs. Marte hopes he can stick around a few years longer.
"Quince o veinte," he said. That means 15 or 20.
Marte finished 2 for 4. He was caught stealing home in the fifth after Andrew McCutchen was caught between first and second on a pickoff move.
Pirates starter A.J. Burnett allowed two earned runs on four hits in 71/3 innings.
"He spotted the ball very well and had a dynamite curveball to go with it as well," Hurdle said.
Burnett credited catchers Rod Barajas, who caught Burnett Thursday, and Michael McKenry for the success of his curve. He lost his shutout bid in the eighth, when he allowed a pair of solo home runs to Chris Johnson and Corporan.
Keuchel lasted six innings, allowing five earned runs and five hits. He walked two and struck out two. But he surrendered three costly home runs -- all before he recorded his fourth out of the night.
Three batters after Marte's homer, Garrett Jones sent a Keuchel fastball into the right-field seats for his 15th homer, a two-run blast that made it 3-0. It was his second homer against a left-handed pitcher this season.
In his first at-bat at Minute Maid Park since signing a two-year deal with the Pirates, former Astro Clint Barmes hit his own two-run homer in the second to make it 5-0.
• Game: Pirates at Astros
• When: 8:05 p.m.
• Where: Minute Maid Park, Houston.
• TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
First Published July 26, 2012 11:00 pm