Pirates pitcher Cole rewarded for gritty effort
MILWAUKEE — Right-hander Gerrit Cole had more to worry about than just throwing strikes Thursday when he faced the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates trailed 4-0 after four innings and were not playing a tidy game. Two errors, including a blunder by Cole, led to an unearned run. Another run scored on a wild pitch. Ground balls sneaked through the infield for hits. A controversial call at home plate went the Cubs' way.
“It's definitely not easy (to focus),” Cole said. “You kind of put your head down and take it pitch by pitch. We had to grind it out as a team.”
On a day when so many things went wrong, the Pirates still were able to pull out a 5-4 victory. Travis Snider and Pedro Alvarez hit big home runs, but Cole's contribution should not be overlooked.
Cole did far more than rack up 10 strikeouts in six innings. When the game was on the verge of spinning out of control for the Pirates, Cole helped settle things down and gave his team a chance to regroup.
The first two innings were uneventful. In the third, Cole walked and went to second on Starling Marte's single. Jose Tabata hit a grounder to the left side. Shortstop Starlin Castro made an off-balance throw from his knees, trying to force out Cole at third base.
Cole slid, and the ball smacked him squarely in the small of his back.
“Just a little stinger,” Cole said, adding that it didn't affect him on the mound the rest of the game.
Left-handed batter Anthony Rizzo led off the fourth with the Cubs up 1-0. The Pirates employed their usual defensive shift against him even though he beat it with four opposite-field singles Wednesday.
This time, Rizzo pulled the ball ... and it somehow rolled into right field.
“We finally got Rizzo to hit into the shift, and he finds the one hole that's in the shift,” Cole said with a laugh. “That's kind of the way things went.”
With runners on second and third, the Pirates pulled in their infield, even though it still was early in the game. So what could have been a routine ground out by Castro instead became an RBI single to left. And Castro later scored on Wellington Castillo's two-out single.
The play at the plate was close, and while catcher Tony Sanchez reacted to the call, Castillo went from first to third base without drawing a throw. Cole's next pitch plunked Travis Wood.
After a visit by pitching coach Ray Searage, Cole got it together. He retired the next seven he faced, including three strikeouts. Overall, Cole pitched better than his linescore looked.
“Basically, it could have been a two-run game for him if not for some mistakes,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
In the seventh, Cole was lifted for pinch-hitter Snider, who ripped a two-run homer. Minutes later, Alvarez dropped a three-run bomb over the center-field wall, and Cole wound up with an unlikely win.
“In those kind of games, you have to keep grinding and try to give your team as many innings as you can,” Cole said. “For us to be able to persevere through all that kind of stuff speaks to how we play out every pitch.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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