Longtime baseball great Jimmy Piersall, more infamous for running the bases backward and handling his own mental illness than being a consistently sound ballplayer, frequently gave simple but great advice for young outfielders:
"Always use two hands" when trying to catch the ball.
If only Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates had followed Piersall's words Tuesday night. Maybe he would have dropped the fly ball hit by Daniel Descalso in the ninth inning anyway, and maybe the St. Louis Cardinals would have come back to tie the score regardless, and the Pirates still would be hanging their heads after what had to be their worst loss of an amazing season so far. Maybe.
Yet, the odds seem more in his favor if Marte use two hands. In fact, after the Cardinals had won 4-3 in 14 innings, Marte admitted via MLB.com that he thought Descalso's fly ball was as good as caught:
"I was overconfident on that play," Marte, speaking with bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade interpreting, said softly [...]. "It can happen to anyone, and I just want to move on. But, yes, I feel bad. It cost us the game."
That and other failings by the Pirates. Marte's error accounted for only one run, with Allen Craig knocking in Descalso to tie the score in the ninth. Overall, the Pirates blew a three-run lead and the Cardinals handed them their fourth straight loss to tighten up the NL Central race. Instead of being four games ahead, the Pirates are just two up on St. Louis.
Marte's mistake overshadowed — and yet made possible — several harrowing moments in extra innings for both sides.
One of them included the Cardinals using rookie pitcher Seth Maness in the cleanup spot after Matt Holliday left the game because of an injured left ankle. Maness struck out looking with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 13th. He also hit into a double play in the 11th against a five-man infield.
In extra innings alone, the Pirates stranded six runners on base. They also didn't score after taking a 3-0 lead on Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in the second inning, a point not lost on manager Clint Hurdle. But he also noted, about Marte:
"Marte's probably not in a good place right now," Hurdle said. "There are some hard lessons to learn from time to time. He wasn't able to make the play, and we got nicked for a run."
There's a good chance Marte will get over it. In the 10th, after the Cardinals had loaded the bases, Descalso flied out to center field, with Andrew McCutchen calling off Marte and teasing him about it, which drew a smile.
McCutchen still should have used two hands, though. These big-leaguers have to start listening to Jimmy Piersall.
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