PITTSBURGH -- It's a short run from the Pirates' dugout to left field at PNC Park. Starling Marte's first few steps Tuesday night were uncertain. Back from an 80-game suspension for using a banned performance-enhancing substance, Marte did not know how he would be received by the fans who once cheered for him unreservedly.
So when he approached his spot in left field, settling in for his first Major League game in more than three months, Marte was relieved to hear more cheers than jeers. Pleasant applause drowned out a handful of audible boos, but the welcome was particularly warm in his corner of the outfield.
Marte delivered a characteristic performance in the Pirates' 4-3 win over the Brewers, which pulled them within five games of the National League Central leaders. He made a sliding catch in the first inning. He broke up Junior Guerra's perfect game with a fourth-inning single and got picked off at second base. He walked and scored in the Bucs' four-run sixth.
"The monkey's off his back," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "We were all excited to have him back. It was good to go out there and get a win."
It's unlikely every step of Marte's road back will be so smooth. There will be questions about his performance and, when the Pirates are on the road, harsher environments. The most important thing for Marte, though, is that he is back in action.
"Today's a new era, a new journey. It feels great," Marte said. "I felt good. I'm just excited to continue battling out there and getting victories for our team."
Marte received his punishment following a positive test for Nandrolone, apologized to his teammates, served his suspension and returned with a desire to prove himself. He looked comfortable before the game, smiling during batting practice and signing autographs for children in the dugout.
But the relief came in waves. During his first trot out to left field, he could see cheering fans, supportive signs, flags of his native Dominican Republic and his own No. 6 jersey.
"When I went out there to the field, I had different thoughts of how they were going to receive me," Marte said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "The love, the applause, all of that, it just made me even more focused and made me feel loved. I really appreciate that.
"I'm just grateful for them. I'm grateful for their love. I'm grateful for them not giving up on me."
Marte quickly made his presence felt, sliding in shallow left-center field to snag Ryan Braun's fly ball for the final out of the first inning.
"Starting off and taking off with a play like that, it kind of removes all the nerves and the pressure," Marte said. "That's the way I play. It feels good to be back. I'm healthy. I'm focused. Starting off with a play like that reminds not only the people, but especially me, that this is where I belong, this is the player I am."
Marte lined a 102.8-mph single to center to lead off the fourth, the Pirates' first hit against Guerra. After aggressively tagging up at first and taking second on Harrison's flyout, he was picked off to end the inning with Josh Bell at the plate. After Francisco Cervelli's homer put the Pirates on the board in the sixth, Marte worked a four-pitch walk and scored on Harrison's game-tying homer to right field.
"Hard-hit single, took a walk," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I thought he did fine."