Gerrit Cole’s quality start and the Pirates lineup’s nine hits provided an important 6-2 series-opening win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The victory was Pittsburgh’s 72nd of the season, matching the win total of the 2011 Pirates that collapsed over the season’s final two months.
These Pirates are not the 2011 Pirates, even though panicky fans cling to the team (which went from first place in July to 90 total losses) as a precedent for this year’s version falling apart again.
Fact is, only 8 of the 25 players on the Pirates’ active roster were playing for Pittsburgh in August 2011 when the Bucs went 8-22 in Collapse 1.0. The 2013 Pirates are different: new veterans, new leaders and an almost entirely new pitching staff. The eight players that do remain are contributing to this year’s success, not inhibiting it.
“I forgot about , man. Honestly,” said Andrew McCutchen. “We’ve progressed since the beginning of the season. We knew that was going to happen.”
Old Pirates Supply Offense
Five of those holdovers, including McCutchen, were in Friday Night’s lineup. Pirates from that 2011 team drove in all six of Pittsburgh’s runs Friday night, combining to go 5-for-16 (.313) with three extra-base hits. Pedro Alvarez (single) and Jose Tabata (home run) each had two RBI as the Bucs shook off their 1-5 road trip by winning the first contest of their three-game homestand vs. Arizona.
A trio of familiar names gave a lead to rookie Gerrit Cole in the 3rd inning. Neil Walker drew a one-out walk from Arizona starter Brandon McCarthy, then McCutchen lined a double down the left-field line to put two men in scoring position. Next batter Alvarez swatted McCarthy’s cutter up the middle, scoring Walker and McCutchen, who just slid past a strong throw from center fielder A.J. Pollock.
Later the same players broke a 2-2 tie. Starling Marte lined a single to get aboard in the 5th inning, then Walker smashed a sinker into the right-center-field gap to score him. McCutchen followed up by hitting an RBI single to center and the Pirates were once again ahead by two. McCarthy exited in the 6th inning after allowing seven hits, four runs and three walks, but the Bucs got their timely hits off the strong-control Diamondbacks starter.
“He wasn’t leaving anything over the middle of the plate,” McCutchen said. “He was locating his fastball and his cutter.”
The Pirates went 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position Friday night.
Cole Hiccups, But Delivers Quality Start
Pittsburgh’s flamethrowing right-hander had his velocity from the outset, striking out second batter Adam Eaton by pinpointing a 99-mph fastball. Cole used a ground-ball double play and another groundout to dance through two hits in the 2nd, then went 1-2-3 in the 3rd.
Cole made mistakes in the 4th inning after getting his two-run lead, though. He walked National League RBI leader Paul Goldschmidt on four pitches, then cleanup hitter Aaron Hill on six pitches. Then Martin Prado lined an RBI single up the middle to make for two straight batters Cole did not retire on two strikes.
After striking out Wil Nieves via some nice cut sliders, Pollock grounded a game-tying RBI up the middle that Cole says he could have gotten with his glove. The pitcher stranded his two runners by getting Cliff Pennington to whiff on another slider, one of Cole’s five strikeouts.
“I just didn’t make pitches when I had to early in that inning, and I didn’t make pitches when I had two strikes,” Cole said. “Pretty much blew that one … I wasn’t gonna make the same mistakes the second time [with a lead].”
Even though he was “pissed” about the 4th inning, Cole finished strong and retired six of his final seven batters to supply his team with a six-inning quality start.
“He stayed aggressive, and his arm-side fastball came into play,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “For the first time in the game, he was able to get the ball in on right-handers … He seemed to find the command that he needed.”
Insuring and Ensuring The Win
After Pirates reliever Jeanmar Gomez retired all six of his batters in the 7th and 8th, Arizona left-hander Eury De La Rosa served up a two-out double to Gaby Sanchez in the 8th inning. Manager Kirk Gibson replaced him with righty J.J. Putz to face Tabata.
The Pirates’ right fielder pounced on a fastball down the middle, ripping it opposite field for his 4th home run of the season.
Tabata is now 11-for-31 in August with a 1.122 OPS as he makes his case to stay in the starting lineup over callup Andrew Lambo.
“I’m appreciative for the opportunity from the manager,” Tabata said. “Every time I see my name in the lineup, I’m putting in 100 percent to win the game.”
Mark Melancon, the NL’s relief leader with a 0.80 ERA, extended his streak to 10 straight games without allowing an earned run by closing out the win. The Pirates are now 9.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks to be safely in playoff position.
From the guys who experienced the 2011 downturn (Garrett Jones, Walker, McCutchen, Alvarez, Tabata, Josh Harrison, Charlie Morton, Tony Watson) to the fresh blood of Cole, every Pirates player is enjoying a pennant race in front of sold-out PNC Park. A packed house of 39,091 fans showed up to watch them equal the win total of two years ago in 41 fewer games.
“You really can’t ask for anything more,” Cole said.