PITTSBURGH – Gerrit Cole bounced back, and Starling Marte hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Pirates defeated the Giants 3-2, ensuring that the Giants will leave Pittsburgh without gaining any ground on the Pirates in the Wild Card race.
There had been concern that Gerrit Cole might be wearing down as his innings continue to increase to a career-high rate, but Cole calmed those concerns emphatically tonight. Cole pitched seven innings, allowing three hits, a single run that was unearned, and struck out eight Giants.
“His entire body of work was better [than his previous outings]. Improvements across the board – fastball command, four pitch mix,” Clint Hurdle explained.
Something that Cole had not been successful doing in his recent outings was finding ways to get out of jams and strand runners on base. Coming into tonight’s start, Cole was stranding 62.5% of base runners in August, well below his 79.4% strand-rate from the first half of the season.
Today, Cole executed when he needed to the most. In the sixth inning, Cole allowed a lead-off single to the Giants’ Matt Duffy. Duffy promptly stole second base, then moved to third base after a questionable decision by Jung-Ho Kang to try and nab Duffy on a groundball to the left side of the infield. Both Duffy and Posey were safe on the play, putting runners on the corners with one out. Cole was able to bear down and struck out Marlon Byrd on a nasty slider low and away, then struck out his future brother in-law Brandon Crawford on a down-and-in slider to escape the jam.
Cole ran into more trouble in the seventh inning after issuing a lead-off walk to Gregor Blanco, who quickly moved to third base via a Cole wild pitch and a Giants’ sacrifice bunt. Once again, Cole executed pitches when he needed to, getting out of the jam by inducing a soft lineout to a drawn-in Neil Walker, followed by a groundout to first.
“[I was] flirting with fire there,” Cole said after the game. “Fortunate to get out of those. We were up against the wall. We had to make some pitches and fortunately it went our way. You can see how easily it doesn’t go our way.”
Recently, whether it had been poor execution by Cole or by his defense, things were not going his way. Tonight it did, and Cole made pitches when he needed to, something that he has done well prior to the All-Star break.
** A Marte Par-tay transpired tonight in full force. Not only did Marte hit the game-winning walk-off home run in the ninth inning, he also reached high against the left field wall to rob Brandon Crawford of a home run.
Marte continues to show that he can do anything on the baseball field. He ranks eighth in the Majors in Power-Speed Number according to Baseball Reference (a statistic that combines and quantifies a player’s stolen base and home run totals), is tied for fourth in assists among outfielders, and is fifth among outfielders in defensive runs saved.
** Jung-Ho Kang blasted his 11th and 12th home runs tonight, after falling behind in the count in both at-bats. Kang now has six home runs in two-strike counts.
With Ramirez out of tonight’s lineup, Kang was placed in the cleanup spot of the batting order. Hurdle said after the game that it is likely that Kang will continue to see cleanup duty in games with Ramirez absent from the lineup.