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Marte's walk-off hit in 11th caps thrilling rally

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- On the surface, the Pirates had little reason to believe heading into the bottom of the ninth Friday night at PNC Park. Miles Mikolas held them to two runs over seven innings. They came up empty in the eighth. They were down by three and just three outs away from a series-opening loss.

That wasn't the feeling in the Pirates' dugout, though. After falling in a five-run hole, they repeated to themselves: Chip away. They did exactly that in the ninth, ruining Greg Holland's first save opportunity with the Cardinals as they stormed back to tie the game. Then, Starling Marte's single to center in the 11th capped Pittsburgh's thrilling comeback, sending the Bucs to a 6-5 victory -- their second straight walk-off win.

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PITTSBURGH -- On the surface, the Pirates had little reason to believe heading into the bottom of the ninth Friday night at PNC Park. Miles Mikolas held them to two runs over seven innings. They came up empty in the eighth. They were down by three and just three outs away from a series-opening loss.

That wasn't the feeling in the Pirates' dugout, though. After falling in a five-run hole, they repeated to themselves: Chip away. They did exactly that in the ninth, ruining Greg Holland's first save opportunity with the Cardinals as they stormed back to tie the game. Then, Starling Marte's single to center in the 11th capped Pittsburgh's thrilling comeback, sending the Bucs to a 6-5 victory -- their second straight walk-off win.

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"We could feel that momentum. The dugout was starting to amp up a little bit," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "We knew that if we got a couple guys on in the ninth, we could make some things happen. Some guys put some good at-bats [together] and we kept rolling and kind of erupted."

It all came together in the ninth against Holland. Corey Dickerson led off with a double. After Francisco Cervelli singled, Colin Moran slapped a ground ball right by first baseman Jose Martinez -- who was charged with an error -- and into right field, bringing home Dickerson.

Up came Mercer, who ended a patient, seven-pitch at-bat by smoking a double off the center-field wall. Cervelli scored, Mercer wheeled around to third base and pinch-running pitcher Chad Kuhl dashed home to score the tying run as Tommy Pham was charged with a fielding error as he chased after the carom. The Pirates had the winning run 90 feet away and nobody out.

Video: STL@PIT: Mercer ties the game on a double, error

But manager Mike Matheny pulled Holland and played the matchup game to force extra innings. The inning that began with so much promise, ended with Matheny summoning right-hander Matt Bowman, who fanned Marte with two outs and Mercer stuck at third.

Video: STL@PIT: Bowman K's Marte, strands two runners

Marte got a chance to redeem himself two innings later. David Freese worked a one-out walk against hard-throwing righty Jordan Hicks, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on Gregory Polanco's groundout to second base. That brought up Marte in the same situation: tie game, two outs, winning run on third. He didn't see a strike from Hicks, either, but he reached out to slap a two-strike slider into center for the walk-off hit, the seventh of his career.

"He picked up a lot of other guys," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "That was an impressive at-bat, to stay on velocity like that, then to hit the pitch that he hit to drive in the winning run. There's a lot of fight."

There was a lot of impressive work out of Pittsburgh's bullpen, too. The Cardinals put up five runs in starter Steven Brault's 4 2/3 innings on the mound, but Kyle Crick closed out the fifth. Tyler Glasnow was electric for three scoreless innings. Richard Rodriguez held the line in the ninth. Felipe Vazquez pitched a perfect 10th, and George Kontos' 11th inning ended with a baserunning blunder by pinch-runner Harrison Bader.

Video: STL@PIT: Polanco catches liner, doubles off Bader

"We keep fighting. We know what type of team we are. We're never out of it," Mercer said. "We can start a rally from anywhere, and there's a lot of guys that can do some special things on this team.

"To get a comeback win, being down 5-0 and scratching and clawing and working our way back and putting ourselves in a situation where we can tie the game or win the game or whatever it might be, it gives us a lot of momentum."

Video: STL@PIT: Mercer on Marte, Coyne in walk-off win

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Polanco pops one: Polanco had been stuck on five home runs and 15 RBIs for more than two weeks. His last homer and RBI came on the same day, April 12, when he homered twice at Wrigley Field to punctuate an excellent two-week stretch. Then he went cold, batting .146 without a homer or RBI over the last 11 games. But Polanco showed some progress on this 2-for-6 night, specifically with the solo homer he launched into the right-field seats to lead off the sixth inning against Mikolas.

"That ball was pounded," Hurdle said. "He's still working on things."

Statcast™ projected the homer as a 427-foot blast, one that put the Pirates on the board and, according to several players, started to swing the momentum in their direction. It continued to build when Marte singled and scored on Dickerson's sacrifice fly, cutting the Cards' lead from five runs to three.

Video: STL@PIT: Polanco smashes a solo home run to center

"You just felt like something was going to happen the whole game," Dickerson said. "Once we scored those runs, it was a completely different vibe. We felt like we were going to do something."

SOUND SMART
The Pirates have put together consecutive walk-off victories. The last time they did that was on July 11-12, 2015. In two unforgettable extra-inning games at PNC Park just before the All-Star break, the Pirates walked off in dramatic fashion against the Cardinals. The score for each game? The same as Friday night: 6-5, Pittsburgh.

HE SAID IT
"It's incredible. Today can be one of those days as a starting pitcher where you don't go out and perform as well as you would like to. Say we lose, 5-1, or whatever. Everybody's upset; I'm thinking like crazy, all the stuff I've got to do. Then they come back and they have an awesome ninth inning and they win in the 11th, and everything is so much happier. We have 15 wins now. I think we've won 15 different ways. It's pretty cool." -- Brault

UP NEXT
Right-hander Trevor Williams will start for the Pirates as they continue their series against the Cardinals at 7:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at PNC Park. Williams went 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA in three starts against St. Louis last season. Rookie Jack Flaherty will start for the Cards.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte