Marte's grand slam amps up Bucs' dugout

Marte's grand slam amps up Bucs' dugout

CINCINNATI -- While the Reds were making a pitching change from Ross Ohlendorf to J.J. Hoover, the Pirates started kicking around the idea in the dugout. David Freese had just loaded the bases with an infield single, and Pittsburgh was down by three runs in the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park.

"We were talking about it before," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "Like, 'It'd be a good time for the first homer as a team.'"

Grand slams mean 40% off pizza

A few moments later, Starling Marte delivered. He cleared the bases with a shot to left field off Hoover, a game-winning blast that also served as Marte's first career grand slam and the Bucs' first homer of the season. The Pirates went on to win over the Reds, 6-5.

"Sure enough, he popped one, and we started jumping up and screaming," Mercer said. "We knew right away it was gone. You could tell by the way he hit it and it sounded."

The Pirates entered Friday night's series opener against the Reds as one of three Major League teams without a home run. There's been talk all winter about the power the Bucs lost this offseason, particularly in Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker.

As a result, the Pirates have focused more on a keep-the-line-moving offense built around on-base ability and contact. It worked to perfection in their season-opening sweep of the Cardinals; they didn't need a homer to dispatch last year's National League Central champions.

But even as they have realigned their offensive focus, the Pirates reminded doubters this spring about the power that remains in their lineup. That includes Andrew McCutchen, who has averaged 25 homers over the last five seasons, but also Marte, once again cast as their cleanup hitter.

"We were going to hit a home run sooner or later," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Marte is capable of hitting a ball like that."

The conditions for hitting were not ideal along the Ohio River on Friday night. Temperatures dipped into the 30s, and the ballpark was pelted with hail just before first pitch. This is typically a good place to hit home runs, but not on this blustery night.

"It's not fun, but it's a matter of time," Mercer said. "We're too good of a club. We've got too much power, and we'll be fine."

Marte stepped out of the batter's box, flipped his bat and trotted around the bases. He knew the ball was gone as soon as Hoover's 1-0 slider left his bat. So did right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who was in the dugout during the ensuing celebration.

"Exactly what you would imagine," he said.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.