PITTSBURGH -- Pennant races tend to have more plot twists than a Stephen King novel, and the Pirates are living up to that tradition.
They had waited nervously for Starling Marte, their dynamic leadoff man, to return from an extended absence with a hand injury. And now that Marte is well and able, Jose Tabata won't let him back in the lineup.
Tabata's performance in the leadoff spot and in left field has energized the Bucs' postseason drive, a development embraced both in the clubhouse and in the PNC Park stands.
"Marte is good to go," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle affirmed Sunday morning. "Jose stays in there because he's hot -- as good as we've seen him in three years. He's been very gritty in the box, has played solid defense, run the bases well. It's been a very good run for Jose."
Three consecutive multi-hit games have only underscored Tabata's response to the call issued by Marte's Aug. 18 hand injury. In 28 games since, the "forgotten" core member of the 2010 team has hit a lusty .308, including 10 extra-base hits and driving in 15 runs; that is only one fewer than he had driven in all last season, in 103 games.
"We haven't seen this Jose since April '11," said Hurdle, recalling the 22-year-old who hit .354 in the first two weeks of that season to start the wheels rolling toward the six-year contract he signed that August. "The consistency of at-bats ... he's ground out some very good ones and has taken some very aggressive swings in offensive counts."