There weren’t many innings where tonight’s game was in question. The only time it was really close was in the sixth inning. Gerrit Cole had gone five innings, giving up just one run, but ran into trouble in the sixth and put the game on the line despite a five run lead.
The right-hander started off with two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs. He got Anthony Rizzo to ground to Jordy Mercer, who misplayed what could have been a double play ball, and what would have easily been an out at second. That allowed a run to score, and kept the bases loaded for Cole with no outs. It also brought the tying run to the plate and got Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson warming up in the bullpen.
The biggest issue with Gerrit Cole earlier in the season was that he couldn’t get strikeouts in key situations. He did that in this situation. Cole struck out his next two batters, going from the bases loaded with no outs to the bases loaded with two outs in a huge swing in momentum. But he also got some help from Mother Nature. Donnie Murphy came up with two outs and hit a deep fly ball to right field. The ball was caught by Marlon Byrd, thanks to a strong wind that was blowing in from the outfield. With no wind, or wind blowing out, the game would have easily been tied. Instead, the game saw an animated Gerrit Cole exit after escaping the jam with minimal damage.
And that was it. Cole gave up three hits to start the second inning, but benefitted from a TOOTBLAN by Nate Schierholtz, thanks to Dioner Navarro’s slow base running. He got out of the inning with a double play ball, preserving a 3-0 lead, which quickly went to 4-0 when Jordy Mercer led off the next inning with a homer.
Cole finished the night with two runs on seven hits in six innings, giving up one walk and striking out six. This was his fifth straight game with six or more innings and two or fewer runs, and it was the seventh such game in his last eight (the other being a 7.1 IP, 4 R, 3 ER start). This was also the fourth start in a row where Cole struck out a batter an inning. In the start before this run he struck out five in six innings. In the month of September, Cole has been on fire. He has a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings, with a 39:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.06 WHIP.
Tonight he did more than just pitch well. He came up with two outs in the second inning, with runners at second and third and a one run lead. He helped himself out in a big way, hitting a two run single to give the Pirates what eventually became the go ahead run. The Pirates were also helped by Pedro Alvarez, who went 2-for-5 with two doubles and three runs knocked in on the night. Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Kyle Farnsworth each came on to pitch shutout innings to close out the 8-2 win over the Cubs. Combined with the Reds losing to the Mets, that put the Pirates one game up for home field in a Wild Card game.
The continued success from Cole is great to see, especially at this point in the season. Earlier today it was announced that Jeff Locke would be skipped this weekend against the Reds, which almost certainly means that Cole will make the final start of the regular season. Depending on how the next three games go, that matchup could decide home field advantage for the Wild Card game. The Pirates will need a big pitcher for that game, and Cole has been one of the best in the rotation this month.