ST. LOUIS -- What doesn't make sense is that Starling Marte cares.
I've been blessed to know this young man since he was 18. Met him in the Dominican Republic, when reporting from there for a newspaper on the state of the Pirates' facilities. We needed one player for a photograph. One phone call from a team official and, 10 minutes later, Marte rushed to our hotel in full garb, smiling, ready for whatever was needed.
But that means nothing, I know, next to this:
Wait, that doesn't really show it. This does:
Ugh. That happened, of course, in the 7-0 loss to the Cardinals on Monday night at Busch Stadium, and it made enough of an impression that Clint Hurdle chewed out Marte upon returning to the dugout and that, from what I was told here Tuesday afternoon, he heard it from others in the clubhouse, as well.
My question for Marte, one I've asked countless times over the past decade: Why does it happen? What goes through his head when it happens?
I put that to him yet again Tuesday, with the kind assistance of interpreter Mike Gonzalez:
"The motive is to always run hard. The mentality is to always run hard," Marte spoke through Gonzalez. "However, there are times when I pop out of the box, I try to run hard, and I slip. And there's always that question, that concern that, if I force it, pull an injury or anything like that, so I always try to be careful when something happens to me. But the mentality and the goal is always to come out of the box hot."
So he slipped?
He's exasperating. Really is. And you know, he's 30 years old. He's not that kid anymore. This is just who he is. He's got all the talent, all the tools and, in fairness, he delivers on most of those. But then he pulls this -- once earlier in Monday's game, as well -- and it dilutes the pool.
What's the answer? Bench him?
That's fine if one is into fist-shaking, but it's not fine for a team that probably needs to win the final two games of this series here to stay in any reasonable contention, now 44-49 and 5.5 games back in the Central two weeks shy of Major League Baseball's trade deadline. And sure enough, Hurdle's got Marte's name right back on the card for Tuesday.
I asked Hurdle why he almost never benches people on merit and, on top of that, why he didn't bench Marte for this game.
"I think you look at it as an outlier," Hurdle began. "How's he played the last while? How's he played the last month?"
He's been terrific, I replied, and it's true: .307 over the past 44 games with 10 home runs, 32 RBIs. He just blasted three out of Wrigley over the weekend.
"And then, unfortunately, you deal with the individual," Hurdle continued. "Starling's shown a mechanism where, every once in a while, he gets disappointed with himself and he just ... he kind of hits pause. It's not what you want. However, he's done it. And he knows it's not right. But sometimes, he gets outside himself. You saw the next time, he hits a ball to the infielder, he runs it out."
He did, but ...
"The way he's played for a month ... sometimes they need firm reminders ... sometimes it's gentle and sometimes it's firm. It's pretty parental, really, in the long run. The reminder is always, you know, you're representing 24."
Meaning Marte's teammates.
"There's 24 other men you're representing. And it's not just him. There've been some other circumstances in the past couple weeks, whether it was preparation or something else -- things you may not see -- these guys play together, and they do have some grace for one another at times, and other times they don't. It's more 'let's go.' There's a code of honor in that clubhouse of what they expect of each other, from other men. We expect effort. And attitude. And a competitive nature when we play."
Hurdle sighed slightly.
"That sometimes has a way of working itself out. Other times, I need to get in front of it."
To continue reading, log into your account: