It's win-or-go-home for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night, and the effort and intensity shown by both teams has certainly reflected that. That's especially true on the defensive side, where Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte and St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma put forth incredible efforts to record critical outs for their respective pitchers.
Of course, this is nothing new for Marte, who during the regular season posted the best UZR/150 — a defensive metric used to measure range — among left fielders. But he may have saved his most impressive play for the best possible moment.
It happened in the third inning with Pittsburgh already trailing 2-0. With one out and nobody on, Matt Carpenter inside-outed a Gerrit Cole pitch down the left field line that had some serious slice and sink to it. Off the bat, it was an obvious hit. It was just a matter of Marte playing it into a single at best, or hopefully a double at worst. But Marte had more aggressive plans.
With a good read and remarkable closing speed, Marte got close enough to make a diving attempt on the ball. On a full run, he decided it was worth the gamble. If it gets by him, it goes to the corner and Carpenter may have a chance to circle the bases with St. Louis' third run. But it never did. About 15 feet from the line, Marte sprawled out to make the incredible grab.
It was a great play and effort that would hold up during any point in the season. With your season on the line and Adam Wainwright on the mound pitching extremely well, it goes to an entirely different level. If the Pirates can rally from their current 3-1 deficit in the seventh inning to win Game 5, it's a possible season-saver.
Not to be outdone, though, Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma came right back in the next half inning to make his own spectacular catch.
Neil Walker led off the inning with a hump back liner to the second baseman's side of the bag that appeared ticketed for short center field. However, Kozma raced across from his position and with his own full length dive, snatched the ball out of the air for the first out.
Again, it was all about effort, and with the Andrew McCutchen, Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd portion of Pittsburgh's line up due up next, it takes on a greater importance. As we saw in Pittsburgh's wild seventh inning, it doesn't take much to start a postseason rally. A base hit there may have been just what Pittsburgh needed to ignite their offense sooner.