PITTSBURGH — He didn’t have his best stuff today, but once again Gerrit Cole found a way to get the job done.
Behind Cole and a grand slam from Francisco Cervelli, the Pirates cruised to an 8-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, keeping themselves alive in the Central division race and preventing the Cardinals from celebrating for the time being.
It wasn’t a vintage Gerrit Cole September start in which he typically overpowers the opposition with his fastball and mixes in his sharp breaking pitches, but Cole was able to limit the damage done by the Cardinals’ offense.
“It wasn’t about swing and miss, it wasn’t about burying guys,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “It was about being efficient with his pitches, getting quick outs, managing the game, navigating the lineup.”
Cole did not have a good feel for his off-speed pitches, stating after the game “I didn’t think anything was that great today.” – he recorded a season-low two strikeouts. However, he had good command of his fastball and was able to miss the barrel of the Cardinals’ bats throughout the outing.
“He used his fastball in and out, he had good velocity, it was firm and it finished throughout the game,” explained Hurdle.
Overall, Cole pitched seven innings, scattering seven hits and giving up two runs, while earning his 19th win of the season. Antonio Bastardo and Jared Hughes combined to pitch scoreless eighth and ninth innings, and the Pirates won for the 96th time this season.
Cole Comes Up Big
In the beginning of September, the Pirates made the decision to skip Cole in the rotation, allowing him to get a breather and providing the Pirates with the opportunity to match him up against their toughest competition in the final weeks of the season. In his last four starts, Cole pitched against the Cubs twice and once each against the Dodgers and the Cardinals. In those starts, Cole pitched 27.1 innings, walked only two batters, struck out 27 and had an ERA of 2.96.
The Pirates won all four of those games. If there were ever any questions about whether or not Cole is an ace-level pitcher, these last four starts have answered them.
“He truly wants to be the guy in the dugout,” Hurdle said. “That all adds together to a young man who has taken those steps to being an ace.”
Cervelli Provides the Big Blow
Pedro Alvarez has terrorized St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching often times throughout his career, and they have clearly prioritized keeping Alvarez in check this season — the Cardinals have walked him 13 times in 61 plate appearances.
On Monday night, Alvarez was batting seventh in the order, and the Cardinals wanted nothing to do with him as they walked him three times on 12 pitches. With Jordy Mercer and the pitcher following Alvarez, it was an easy decision for the Cardinals to navigate around Alvarez and prevent him from making a difference in the game.
Today, however, the Pirates elected to shift Alvarez to the sixth spot of the order. In the fourth inning, Alvarez came to bat with runners on second and third base with one out. Similar to Friday night, the Cardinals chose to intentionally walk Alvarez with first base open, but this time they were forced to face Cervelli.
“This is one team Pedro has shown up big time against,” Hurdle discussed. “They have a whole different lens of Pedro than a lot of different teams, and rightfully so. The damage is real and it’s been done, and it has been done over time. They passed on him the first time and it came to Cervelli.”
Cervelli made them pay for that decision, crushing a Michael Wacha change-up into the left field bleachers for a grand slam, giving the Pirates a comfortable 5-1 lead.
The Pirates have released their lineup for game two, which includes both Cervelli and Aramis Ramirez, an uncharacteristic move that signifies the level of importance that this game holds. Hurdle mentioned pregame that Cole pitched game one because of the significance the game held, and today’s game two lineup is consistent with that thought process.
Charlie Morton will pitch for the Pirates, while the Cardinals will counter with lefty Tyler Lyons. The game will begin at 7:05.
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 30, 2015
Tentative Starters Announced for Weekend
Hurdle said after the game that the Pirates have “written in pencil” the plans for who will start in this weekend’s series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Friday – Francisco Liriano
Saturday – A.J. Burnett
Sunday – J.A. Happ