Kevin Gorman: Gerrit Cole’s dominance mesmerizing, torturous for Pirates fans |
Kevin Gorman, Columnist

Kevin Gorman: Gerrit Cole’s dominance mesmerizing, torturous for Pirates fans

Kevin Gorman
Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws to a Tampa Bay Rays batter during the first inning of Game 5 of a baseball American League Division Series in Houston, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

No Pittsburgh professional sports team tortures its fan base quite like the Pirates, and no Pittsburgh professional sports fan base tortures itself quite like Pirates fans.

Watching former Pirates players shine in the MLB playoffs long has been an annual rite of passage in Pittsburgh as fans lament what could have been if their team had been kept together.

The starting pitching matchup for Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays was a textbook example as it matched a pair of former Pirates pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow.

Cole and Glasnow represent not only the Pirates’ failure to maximize their talent at the major league level but, by far, the two worst trades general manager Neal Huntington has made.

Somehow, he’s still employed.

What bothers me is not how former Pirates fare with other teams but how they underachieve here. Their post-Pirates success is an indictment on the way the organization operates at the major league level.

So, while Pirates fans took to Twitter to whine about watching them duel in a winner-take-all game, I watched in amazement how dominant Cole was in the Astros’ 6-1 victory.

It was simply mesmerizing.

The 29-year-old right-hander followed a 15-strikeout performance in Game 2 with 10 Ks, throwing 74 of 107 pitches for strikes while allowing two hits in eight innings. Only Bob Gibson has had more strikeouts in back-to-back postseason games, with 27. And Cole threw 99 mph on his 100th pitch.

Cole had recorded strikeouts in 73 consecutive innings, dating to Aug. 1, before that streak ended in the third inning. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the longest stretch in the Expansion Era (since 1961) — by 33 innings.

That Cole was a 20-game winner with a 2.50 ERA this season — and is 18-0 in his past 24 starts — shows he is living up to the talent the Pirates saw when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft out of UCLA.

More importantly, Cole’s postseason performance has dispelled doubts about his mental toughness. That was the knock on Cole when he lost deciding games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 NLDS (at age 23) and to the Chicago Cubs in the 2015 wild -ard game (against Jake Arrieta).

But we saw glimpses of the old Cole and Glasnow in Game 5 of the ALDS. That Glasnow gave up four runs in the first inning and Cole allowed a home run in the second was true to their Pirates form. Afterward, the talk was about how Glasnow, who allowed four runs on five hits in 2 2/3 innings, was tipping pitches. That was a concern when he was with the Pirates.

Instead of wallowing in self pity, the Pirates should be self-evaluating. The success of Cole, Glasnow and Charlie Morton this season only magnified the Pirates’ mistakes and validated the firing of pitching coach Ray Searage.

The Pirates attempted to build a pitching staff from within, by drafting and developing power arms in Cole, Glasnow, Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham. Only Taillon remains with the Pirates, and he’s out until 2021 after Tommy John surgery.

The success of former Pirates pitchers in the postseason tells me the problem wasn’t as much about drafting and developing pitching but rather an inability to cultivate and maximize it at the major league level.

That should be the directive for the Pirates’ next manager and pitching coach, to practice patience while providing guidance. The Pirates can’t afford for Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, Steven Brault and Mitch Keller to underachieve, especially if they’re not willing to add another front-line arm.

It makes me question the Pirates’ front-office strategy of trading their top young pitchers before they become free agents. Cole could have been the ace the Pirates lacked in this 93-loss season, then hit the market. Glasnow could have been their ace for the future, allowing Keller time to develop.

Until they change their ways, the Pirates and their fans are going to endure watching more former players in postseason games that are as torturous as they are tantalizing.

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Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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