PITTSBURGH — In a match-up between two of the best pitchers in baseball, the Pirates defeated the Dodgers 5-4 in an extra-inning, back-and-forth affair.
Much of the chatter before tonight’s game was the showdown between Gerrit Cole and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, but the outcome was not what most expected. Both pitchers were without their A-game and without their typical command as they combined to walk five and hit two batters.
Kershaw had been riding a 34-inning scoreless streak coming into tonight’s contest, and had gone at least eight innings in each of his last four starts. But the Pirates were able to get to him early. Gregory Polanco jumped on Kershaw’s first offering of the night, and roped a fastball into the right-center field seats. It was the first home run Kershaw had given up since June 22nd, a span of six starts and over 48 innings. The Pirates were able to get three base-runners over the next two innings, a victory in itself against the three-time Cy Young winner, but were unable to capitalize.
The fourth inning brought better fortune, however, as the Pirates started a rally with three straight singles by Andrew McCutchen, Aramis Ramirez and Jung-Ho Kang off of Kershaw that loaded the bases. Kershaw was able to escape after 37 pitches, limiting the damage to one run by way of a Chris Stewart RBI walk, but Kershaw’s pitch count was inflated, which signified that a short night was in order for the former MVP.
Kershaw began the fifth inning by inducing a routine ground out by Polanco, but then missed badly with a fastball that drilled Starling Marte in the back. McCutchen then drove a Kershaw fastball to the centerfield wall scoring Marte, and he was brought home by an RBI single from Ramirez.
Kershaw’s night came to an end after six innings, in which he gave up nine hits, four earned runs, and struck out five. The nine hits were the most Kershaw has given up since early April, and his five strikeouts is tied for his season-low.
Gerrit Cole was not as sharp as we have become accustomed to seeing, but was still able to provide the Pirates with another quality start and keep them in the game. Cole walked three batters and hit one, and pitched to seven three-ball counts throughout his six innings.
“Unfortunately I just wasn’t that good,” Cole said after the game. “Almost two four-pitch walks. I mean that’s unlike me.”
What makes Gerrit Cole so special is his ability to battle through outings and consistently keep the team in the game and within striking distance when he does not have his best stuff or best command. He’s learned to battle through adversity, and that was clear in tonight’s game. With men on second and third and two outs in the third inning, Cole was able to induce a ground ball that forced third baseman Aramis Ramirez to range to his left and leave his feet to stop. It seemed as if Ramirez had enough time to get back to his feet and make a throw to first base to get the out and get Cole out the jam, but Ramirez’s throw pulled first baseman Michael Morse off of the bag, and two runs came into score. Cole didn’t let the misfortune get to him as he quickly retired Adrian Gonzalez. Cole’s resilience continues to impress Clint Hurdle as his young career goes on.
“The thing that’s special about him is, you know it’s a tough play that scores the first two runs. You get a guy that lays out. We make a play and we just can’t hold a toenail on the bag to get the out. They score two that way, and he just keeps pitching,” Hurdle said. “Another great experience for him I think to go through and to compete very well, and to give us every opportunity to win.”
In 62 career starts, Cole has given up four earned runs or more only six times, and has never given up more than five earned runs in a start. Cole is tied for fourth in baseball in quality start percentage in 2015, which only further proves his ace-status.
With both starters out of the game, the Pirates’ dominant bullpen bested the Dodgers’ bullpen and the Bucs pulled out the win in the 10th inning when pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez delivered with a bases loaded single.
** Jung-Ho Kang seemed to finally meet his match tonight. Kang had a couple of very uncomfortable looking at bats against Clayton Kershaw, whose awkward delivery had Kang off-balance and swinging through fastballs we’ve become accustomed to seeing him barrel up.
“This is the first time all year though he talked about his timing being messed up with Kershaw and the difference in his delivery,” Hurdle explained. “Early on that was a little challenging for him.”
Despite the challenges he had, including awkward strikeouts in his first and third at bats, he was still able to impressively reach the bat out and poke a Kershaw curveball into right field for a hit in his second at bat against the Dodger ace.
“He’s learning everyday – different situations,” Hurdle said. “Now he’s seen that guy, he’ll have a better feel. You never know what the results are going to be but he’ll have a better feel.”
Hurdle has often mentioned that it’s easy to forget that Kang is facing a pitcher that he’s never seen before in almost every game. The way he’s been able to adjust so seamlessly has been extremely impressive.
** Sean Rodriguez has not had a productive year at the plate for the Pirates this season, but his versatility and quality defense has been as underrated of a topic as any so far this season. His performance at second base was outstanding tonight, which included two tough double-plays he was able to convert.
“I’ve had some guys that were versatile, but wherever we’ve put this guy he’s made plays,” Hurdle said in praise of Rodriguez. “He’s made above-average plays. Web-gems. It’s like a kid out playing in the back yard. There’s never any fear of failure. The balls hit near him, he’s gonna go out and make a play. He does it so relaxed with so much confidence. It’s special.”
The defensive metrics point to Sean Rodriguez as being a league average defender, but this may be one of those situations where the eye-test is a more valid measurement as he has made most of the routine plays and has made several outstanding defensive plays for the Pirates this year.