The 6th inning sunk the Pirates’ chances for another series win, as the Philadelphia Phillies collected four hits and four runs off Gerrit Cole and Vin Mazzaro to grab the Independence Day victory 6-4.
Cole entered with just 60 pitches and struck out Jimmy Rollins for the second time to start the inning. But Ryan Howard worked an 0-2 count into a walk with the help of home plate umpire Chris Conroy, then Domonic Brown singled on a three-ball count to hasten Cole’s removal from the game. Even at 78 pitches, Cole had been elevating pitches and struggling with overall command.
“When I fell behind in the count, they put good swings on the ball and just kept getting hits, whether it was a good pitch or not,” Cole said.
In came Mazzaro, the groundball pitcher the Pirates go to for drawing double-play balls. There would be no such chances as Mazzaro gave up a single to Delmon Young (Pitch 1), an RBI single to Kevin Frandsen (Pitch 2), a two-RBI single to Carlos Ruiz. After he hit next batter Cole Hamels, Mazzaro was removed with the Pirates trailing 5-1.
“Whenever you go to the bullpen and it doesn’t work, the decision was not the right one,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “If you leave the starter out there and he gives up the runs, then it wasn’t the right one.”
That four-run inning was the dagger for the Pirates’ first series loss in the last month of play. Andrew McCutchen connected in his first clutch situation, ripping a two-run single in the 2nd inning to open the scoring.
His second chance came as the potential tying run after Garrett Jones’ pinch-hit RBI single made the score 6-3. McCutchen worked the count full, but grounded into a double play that scored the run but ended the rally.
Hamels performed like the Hamels of old after allowing the 2nd-inning single to McCutchen, retiring 10 straight hitters and striking out a total of eight hitters with no walks for his 3rd season win.
“His command was sharp compared to what we had seen the last few outings,” Hurdle said. “The changeup came into play very, very effectively.”
Ace In Progress
So back to Gerrit Cole, who earned his first loss after starting 4-0, before we wrap this up and go watch fireworks. He allowed only one extra-base hit, a Chase Utley double. On the other hand, he still gave up eight total hits over 5.1 innings, getting into nine 0-1 counts as opposed to 10 1-0 counts.
“Some of the angles on his breaking balls played better today,” Hurdle said. “Tried some backdoor breaking balls. Was able to figure out too when the balls around hitters’ laps, a little elevated, they were able to get some swings on it.”
What are Cole’s goals (rhyme) for next week’s start against the Oakland A’s, possibly his final one before the All-Star Break?
“I think get ahead better,” Cole said. “And just keep using the breaking balls and the changeups, and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Cole tied his season-high with five strikeouts and got a decent seven whiffs with mostly offspeed pitches. Check out how I tracked his pitches Wednesday. These are my personal classification based on velocity, not those from MLB or BrooksBaseball.
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So the crowd wearing red and white got to cheer more than the crowd in black and gold out of the 35,328 fans Thursday afternoon. But the Pirates take the season series from Philadelphia and retain baseball’s best record.