The Pirates beat the Cardinals, 9-4, at PNC Park Friday behind the momentum of a six run seventh inning. The key play that inning was not a hit, but beating out a throw.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Starling Marte hit a soft roller to shortstop, but Paul DeJong did not field it perfectly and went for the shorter throw at second base. That hint of a bobble was all Kevin Newman needed and he beat the feed.
From there, Josh Bell, Melky Cabrera, Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier rattled off consecutive RBI hits, swinging a three-run deficit to a three-run advantage.
Without that play at second, the Pirates would not have scored in the inning and likely would have lost. Without Newman's hustle, the play would not have happened.
"There's nothing guaranteed in this game," Clint Hurdle said on the play at second. "... We were able to take advantage of a situation where there wasn't an out made. Just love the finish."
As soon as the ball left the bat, Newman had one thought: "Just dig hard."
"Not being held on at first, I knew if he went to second, there would be a chance to beat it out," Newman was telling me. "I was just trying to get there as quick as I could."
He ran pretty hard for a guy who had to miss three starts this week with right hip discomfort. The time away has not seemed to slow him down, and he continued to ride a surge that started when he was reinstalled as the leadoff hitter on Aug. 23.
In his 12 games played since returning to the top of the order, Newman is slashing .438/.500/.729 over 54 plate appearances with seven extra-base hits, one of which got the Pirates on the board in the third:
On the season, Newman has a .389 on-base percentage when batting in the top spot, among the very best of baseball's leadoff hitters. He has said that it is a spot he is not only comfortable with, but enjoys hitting from. I asked if he could elaborate why.
"I like the competition that comes with it," Newman explained. "You're going to get five at-bats mostly every night and have a chance to face the starter three or four times. I just like the challenge. I like to go up there and compete."
Newman ended up making five trips to the plate Friday. He got two hits, drew a walk and was hit by a pitch. He was almost as valuable on the basepaths.