Since interleague play was instituted in 1997, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been among MLB’s worst teams in the format. However, it’s becoming clear that 2013 could be quite different in more ways than one.
Starling Marte’s two home runs and a key three-run shot from Brandon Inge backed up another successful start for rookie Jeff Locke, as the Pirates defeated the Seattle Mariners 9-4 on Tuesday night at Safeco Field. Pittsburgh has won five in a row and is now 10-3 against the American League this season.
Marte delivered solo bombs in the second and eighth innings, providing tidy bookends to another vital performance by the Pirates offense, which has put up 35 runs during its current win streak. Pittsburgh batters have turned on the power over that span, smacking 10 balls over the fence, including five homers Tuesday night. Russell Martin and Gaby Sanchez also cleared the wall for the Bucs.
The five-homer game was the Pirates’ first since July 2009, and it was accompanied by four other extra-base hits. Pedro Alvarez didn’t hit a round-tripper for the first time since last Wednesday, but he doubled in the ninth to stretch his hitting streak to eight games.
Locke, the latest beneficiary of the Pirates’ largesse, battled through some lengthy at-bats to allow just two runs on four hits over seven innings. The young left-hander, who struck out four and walked one, actually saw his ERA increase to 2.06, the second-best mark in the National League.
Locke has been one part of an eye-opening first three months of the season for the Pirates (47-30), who remained one game behind St. Louis for first in the NL Central. This is the furthest Pittsburgh has been above the .500 mark since 1992, the last time the franchise won its division and made the playoffs.
Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak homered for the Mariners (34-44), who dropped behind the Angels into fourth place in the AL West. Seattle starter Joe Saunders allowed six runs on six hits before making an early exit.
The Pirates got right to work in their first trip to Seattle since 2007, taking a 1-0 lead after two batters. Marte tripled into the right-field corner to lead off the game, then Jordy Mercer hit an RBI grounder to second base.
The Bucs were slightly more explosive in the second inning, as Martin, Inge and Marte slammed homers to briskly raise the advantage to 6-0. Martin’s opposite-field solo shot was his eighth, and it started the barrage that chased Saunders. Following a Tony Sanchez single and a base on balls to Neil Walker, No. 9 hitter Inge launched a line-drive three-run blast to left, his first of the season.
Next up, Marte lofted his seventh homer to further stagger Saunders, followed by a smoked double off the bat of McCutchen that knocked the Mariners lefty off the mound. Saunders’ 1 1/3-inning stint was the shortest start against the Pirates this season.
Inge got the Pittsburgh offense going again in the sixth when his double to right-center blossomed into a run. Mariners reliever Blake Beavan retired Marte, but Mercer reached on an infield single to third baseman Seager, who threw the ball away to score Inge.
Seager got the run back with a towering bases-empty homer in the bottom of the sixth, but Marte had the answer in the eighth with an impressive shot of his own, giving him nine in what should turn out to be his first full major-league season. Marte struck against hard-throwing Carter Capps, who allowed another bomb to Sanchez in the ninth to cap the Pirates scoring.
Following a scoreless eighth tossed by Tony Watson, Bryan Morris allowed a two-out, two-run blast by Smoak in the ninth. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle then called on Duke Welker to get the final out in just his second major-league appearance.
Pirates righty Jeanmar Gomez returns from the disabled list Wednesday afternoon to start against Mariners cornerstone Felix Hernandez in the finale of the two-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 3:40 Eastern time. On May 8, Hernandez threw eight innings of one-run ball in Pittsburgh as Seattle won 2-1. Gomez got the start the previous night when the Pirates topped Seattle 4-1.
Notes: This is just the fourth all-time series between Seattle and Pittsburgh. The teams split a two-game set at PNC Park earlier this season, but the Mariners had won five of six games against the Pirates entering 2013…Because of rain in the Seattle area, the retractable roof was put into use a couple hours before game time…The Pirates are 7-2 against AL West teams this year. They will face Oakland (July) and Texas (September) later to complete their tour of the division.
Matt Lipcsak contributed to this report.