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Starling in the making: Rookie homers on first pitch

Starling in the making: Rookie homers on first pitch

HOUSTON -- That wasn't an earthquake in a suburb of Santo Domingo at exactly 8:07 p.m. ET on Thursday night. It was the Richter Scale picking up the tremors caused by an entire neighborhood jumping up and down in unison in celebration of its favorite son's remarkable first Major League swing.

Starling Marte, as if to retroactively spoof arguments that he wasn't yet ready for The Show, raised the curtain by poking the very first big league pitch he saw, from Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel, over Minute Maid Park's left-center wall.

A couple hours after confidently hoping his career would be historic, Marte's first at-bat made history. He became the first Pirates player to homer in his first Major League at-bat since June 18, 1961, when Don Leppert went yard against St. Louis southpaw Curt Simmons.

Everyone was impressed.

Marte opens with a bang
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte became the 13th player since 2000 to homer on the first pitch he saw in the Majors.
Starling MartePirates7/26/12
Tommy MiloneNationals9/3/11
J.P. ArencibiaBlue Jays8/7/11
Daniel NavaRed Sox6/12/10
Mark SaccomannoAstros9/8/08
Kevin KouzmanoffIndians9/2/06
Adam WainwrightCardinals5/24/06
Andy PhillipsYankees9/26/04
Kaz MatsuiMets4/6/04
Marcus ThamesYankees6/10/02
Gene StechschulteCardinals4/17/01
Chris RichardCardinals7/17/00
Esteban YanRays6/4/00

"That gave us all a jolt. You don't see that too often," said Clint Barmes, who along with Garrett Jones followed Marte's opening act with two-run homers in the Pirates' 5-3 win.

"Pretty amazing ... first pitch and all," said Andrew McCutchen, normally on the other side of amazing.

"That's exciting. I got goosebumps when he hit it," said manager Clint Hurdle. "That swing touched a lot of people."

"I'm pretty focused. There's still nine innings to go," said A.J. Burnett, who benefited from all the firepower with his 12th win. "But that was impressive. I'm happy for the kid."

No one was surprised. Least surprised was Pedro Alvarez, who on the Bucs' bench had called it.

"Figure first-pitch fastball, Starling's going to be aggressive ..." Alvarez said, shrugging.

Exactly the way the man himself approached that first at-bat.

"I was telling the boys before the game in the dugout, if he throws a fastball in the middle, I'm going to take a hack at it," Marte said through interpreter/first-base coach Luis Silverio. "And that's what he did, and that's why I did."

Marte became the 13th player since 2000 to hit the first big league pitch to him out of the park. The complete list is nebulous, still being researched, but certainly won't be very long "in the context of how many have played in the big leagues," Hurdle said.

The list includes multiple pitchers, among them the last to accomplish the feat, the Nationals' Tommy Milone last year. Also notably on the list is Pittsburgh managerial great Chuck Tanner, a Cincinnati Red on April 12, 1955, when he connected for the first of his homers off Gerry Staley of the Milwaukee Braves.

If he wanted to take the stage in conspicuous manner, Marte could not have picked a better night. There was a limited Major League schedule. Furthermore, the Pirates-Astros game was a previously scheduled and promoted MLB.TV freebie. So Marte's star shone not only bright, it shone wide.

"My emotions are running high now. It's hard to describe the feeling," Marte said after this overall 2-for-4 night.

A couple of hours before becoming the Bad News Bucs' latest hero, Marte was simply reveling in having become the team's newest member.

"I'm excited to be here," Marte had said. "I aim to play the game the way I do every day. It's a dream come true, the chance to start what I hope will be a long career, 15-20 years."

The 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic certainly did not look excited. He never does; he just looks like the guy who knows he's got it. The quiet confidence he radiates could be part of his early mystique.

"It's a big day for him, for our Latin American program, for Rene Gayo," Hurdle said before the game, referring to the Pirates' director of Latin American scouting. "It's a big day in a lot of different ways -- so why not bat him first? Besides, if he hits second, we don't have a leadoff guy."

That was Hurdle's way of getting into the real reason the Pirates considered this the ideal time to inject Marte into the mix. Beyond his own steady, noteworthy development was the disappointing performance of Pittsburgh's leadoff combination. Alex Presley, Jose Tabata and Drew Sutton have combined for a .217 average and .264 on-base percentage atop the lineup.

Presley did own the Pirates' only other leadoff homer of the season, connecting on April 20 in Atlanta.

Nonetheless, Hurdle said Marte "gives us a better option in left field. We're looking for more stability and production."

Hurdle gave his version of his welcome-to-the-bigs speech to Marte. And when Marte was asked what the manager had told him, his corroborated the Hurdle account.

"He said it's the same baseball. Be happy. Have fun, play hard, and don't try to do too much," Marte relayed.

In his limited Spring Training playing time, Marte was conspicuous enough for the fans to instantly clamor for him. In fact, that is why the Pirates made his time limited, sending him to the Minor League camp after he had hit .520 in a dozen exhibitions; the club did not want to give him an extended chance to contradict its conviction that he needed some Triple-A seasoning.

"I know it was only Spring Training," Marte said, "but I still did things the right way. I'll just continue to do the same things."

This is hardly an overnight success story, but a story of long, hard dedication being rewarded. Signed as a teen, this is Marte's sixth year in the organization.

"I'm pretty happy for Rene," Marte said. "He's the one guy who has always encouraged me with emotional text messages, not only about baseball but also about life. He knows what I'm going through right now. He's the one who signed me at 16. I know it's also a special day for him."

When Marte got the word Wednesday night that the dream was bearing fruit, his first phone call was to his grandmother. His next call will be to inform her that he got his home-run ball -- courtesy of Scott (Bones) Bonnett, the Bucs' energetic clubhouse manager -- and will be presenting it to her.

Briefly, his cool faded and he became emotional as he said, "She helped me the most. She raised me. She was proud, and was crying. Then I called my friends and my girlfriends."

They were all gathered around a television Thursday night, watching and sharing the first of many Marte Moments. Gotta hope no one kicked out the plug as Dallas Keuchel went into his first windup.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte