PITTSBURGH — The Pirates finished strong Saturday night at PNC Park. John Jaso delivered a pair of RBI singles in the ninth and tenth innings and the bullpen gave up just two hits over five innings as the Pirates walked off a 5-4 victory over the New York Mets.
But the game might have been won much earlier in the night.
Pirates starter Gerrit Cole didn’t have his best stuff from the very beginning and gave up four runs on ten hits in five innings. But he found a way to scratch, battle and claw enough to give his team a chance to win the game.
Cole gave up three home runs, but they were all solo shots. He stranded six runners on base — five of them in scoring position — and he handed out just one free pass as Cole found a way to limit the damage on a night when not much was working for him.
“Obviously, too many mistakes,” Cole said. “Too many balls leaving the park, falling behind in counts. We’ve got some work to do, but at the end of the day, it’s a team sport and those guys played an unbelievable game battling back.”
Cole did not pitch well by any metric, including by his own evaluation. But he did just enough — by he narrowest of margins — to keep his team in a position to come from behind.
“That’s kind of been the mantra around here since I’ve come up and it’s something that I take a lot of pride in doing, just going out there and giving it all you’ve got every time out,” Cole said.
Each one of those stranded runners loomed large as the Pirates came down from a 4-2 deficit and tie the game.
“I just bended and didn’t break,” Cole said. “I didn’t make mistakes in those situations. I made mistakes leading up to those situations and then fortunately was able to execute just to keep them at one (each inning). No crooked numbers tonight. As a starter, that’s idea. Obviously, the lack of length, the number of pitches and the total number of runs scored was not ideal.”
“I liked his effort,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Without his best effort he just had to roll his sleeves up and do the best he could with what he had with where he was. That was it. Three solo shots on 10 hits, four runs, pitched out of a couple jams, left men on base. The last two outings have just been a challenge, and you’re going to have those as you go through a 35-start season from time to time. He had one off inning up until the last two starts that carried him into the third week in May.”
HOME RUN RATE REVISITED
Cole was the victim of solo home runs off the bats of Jay Bruce, Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda that traveled a combined 1,289 pitches.
His HR/FB, which as I discussed back in April, is significantly elevated this season, continues to be the primary issue hurting Cole. Just over 17 percent of his fly balls have left the ballpark this season — way over the league average of around 10 percent and his career average of 8.4 percent.
Typically, home run rates normalize over a long enough sample size, but I asked Cole if he though there was anything he was doing that has contributed to the increase. Cole didn’t really think there was a common thread.
“We are trying to attack the zone,” he said. “A good handful of them have been mistakes. A handful have been good pitches. Some have been bad sequences. I don’t know. I know that some of them have been elevated and probably catching too much of the plate. That’s just aggressiveness and lack of execution combined at the same times.”
Andrew McCutchen went 2 for 3 with a two-run home run and three RBIs. He also walked and reached base on a hit by pitch. … Wade LeBlanc, Juan Nicasio, Felipe Rivero and Tony Watson allowed two hits (both by Watson) and struck out eight over five innings. … The Pirates do not have a firm pitch count for Jameson Taillon’s rehab start Sunday. … Josh Harrison went 1 for 4 with a walk. He’s hit safely in nine straight games.