PITTSBURGH -- Seven innings after robbing Brandon Crawford of a home run, Starling Marte robbed Crawford's entire team of a possible win. Marte's homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Saturday gave the Pirates a 3-2 walk-off win over the stunned Giants at PNC Park.
Marte drilled the first pitch to him by George Kontos for his 15th homer of the season to keep the game's theme to its conclusion. The Bucs' first two runs had been the product of Jung Ho Kang's first career two-homer game.
"I was looking for a fastball away. Tie game in the ninth, that's what pitchers do most of the time," said Marte, who on May 6, 2014, had beaten the Giants with MLB's first replay review walk-off. "Today was more exciting."
The outcome reset the Pirates' Wild Card lead over the Giants at eight games and moved them within 3 1/2 games of the National League Central lead of the Cardinals, who lost to the Padres, 8-0.
The finish was appropriately dramatic for a game that featured a dramatic pitchers' duel.
In his first start in 20 days after spending time on the DL with a strained left hamstring, the Giants' Mike Leake was limited to 77 pitches in six innings. He allowed only one hit -- Kang's first homer, tying it at 1 in the fifth.
The Pirates' Gerrit Cole remained winless in five August starts despite allowing only an unearned run along with three hits in seven innings, walking three and striking out eight. And he did it while pitching against future brother-in-law Crawford.
Cole had to pitch out of jams with runners in scoring position in both the sixth and seventh innings.
"Yeah, we were playing with fire," Cole said. "We were up against the wall and had to make some pitches. Fortunately, it went our way. In those situations, you try to minimize damage the best you can."
Given a 2-1 lead by Kang's second homer, in the seventh while he was still the pitcher of record, Cole missed out on a 15th win that would have tied him for the Majors lead when a wild pitch by reliever Joakim Soria plated the tying run in the eighth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Wrong base, wrong play: OK, Kang is not perfect. The shortstop's one defensive flaw surfaced again in the sixth inning -- a tendency to go for the out at third when not warranted. With Matt Duffy on second and one out in a 1-1 tie, he fielded Buster Posey's grounder and his throw to third was wide, leaving the potential lead run on third but with only one out. Cole bailed him out by fanning Marlon Byrd and Crawford to end the inning.
"We did some things today we were able to play over," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You got a hitter [Posey] up there who's not a fast runner. That's not a play you work on, and a tough angle to throw. A very risky play -- and you have an out right in front of you at first base."
Heads up: Smart baserunning played a major factor, indirectly and directly leading to both of Giants' runs. In the fifth inning, Gregor Blanco stole second base and advanced to third on an overthrow by Pirates catcher Chris Stewart. He scored on a single by Ehire Adrianza.
And in the eighth, Duffy scored from third base on Soria's wild pitch, knotting the game at 2.
Leake plucked: Giants manager Bruce Bochy had a decision to make in the top of the seventh: Keep Leake in to hit with a runner on third and one out in a tied game or pinch-hit for him. Bochy opted for the latter, and it didn't work out.
"He was done," Bochy said of Leake. "It had been awhile since he last pitched." More >
"Today was the best I've possibly felt all year. I felt I was doing a good job of delivering my pitches, hitting my spots, but one pitch I didn't execute as well as I'd like." -- Kontos, on Marte's home run pitch.
"It elevates the intensity of each pitch. You've got to stay focused. I enjoy pitching like that." -- Cole, on his fourth duel of the season with Leake, the first three while he was still with the Reds.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Another expected sellout in Sunday night's series finale will set a PNC Park record for a four-game series. The first three games between the Pirates and Giants have drawn 112,622. The park record is 150,819 last June 26-29 to see the New York Mets.
With Saturday's win, the Pirates now are 15-1 under the sun this season in PNC Park.
WHAT'S NEXT Giants: Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will face his former team as the Giants close out a four-game series with the Pirates on Sunday night at 5:05 p.m. PT. Vogelsong has struggled at PNC Park, owning a 6.06 ERA and 6-13 record in 54 appearances (20 starts) in Pittsburgh.
Pirates: Left-hander Francisco Liriano will seek his fifth consecutive win when he faces the Giants on Sunday night at 8:05 p.m. ET. Overall, Liriano is undefeated in his last nine starts -- with the Bucs having won all nine.
John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.