Cole posts MLB-leading 10th win as Bucs win squeaker
By Adam Berry and John McGonigal
PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Gerrit Cole became the first pitcher in the Majors to compile 10 wins, as he threw six strong innings and led the Pirates to a 4-3 victory over the Phillies at PNC Park on Saturday.
Cole held Philadelphia to two runs (one earned) on five hits while striking out seven, lowering his Major League-leading ERA to 1.71. He retired the final nine Phillies hitters he faced in order and 12 of the last 14, needing only 18 pitches to get through his last two innings.
"As the game got going and as I got some runs and we continued to play good defense, I was able to get more in the zone, get more on the black," Cole said. "[Catcher Chris Stewart] kind of switched the way we were attacking hitters. It kind of helped me find a groove, and it worked from there."
It was the 24-year-old right-hander's fifth straight win and his seventh straight quality start. The Pirates' lineup, meanwhile, supported Cole with four early runs against Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan, improving to 29-6 this season when scoring at least four runs.
The Pirates (34-27) didn't reach seven games above .500 last season until their 101st game, on July 23.
The Phillies have now lost 18 of their last 23 games since a six-game winning streak last month, falling to a season-low 19 games under .500 as they lost a series at PNC Park for the sixth time in their last seven trips to Pittsburgh.
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Elementary, dear Watson: Tony Watson, the Pirates' lefty setup man, has been all but untouchable since allowing three runs on Opening Day, carrying a 0.86 ERA in 30 appearances since then into Saturday's game. Watson surrendered one run, cutting Pittsburgh's lead in half, and walked Ryan Howard to load the bases with nobody out. Watson then buckled down and didn't let another ball get out of the infield, quickly quelling the Phillies' rally in one of the season's more improbable escapes.
"It really came down to the eighth inning," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We put ourselves in a really good position not only to tie it, but possibly win. It's a situation where young players were up there. It's something that they'll experience, they'll grow from. Really, the game came down to that."
No shutout: It took 13 innings and more than four hours for the Phillies and Pirates to muster one run on Friday night. That wasn't the case Saturday. Just six minutes into the game, Philadelphia scored on a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley. It was the first run the Pirates gave up since Tuesday, snapping a 22-inning scoreless streak by Pittsburgh pitching.
Crooked numbers: Entering Saturday's game, the Pirates' last multi-run frame was the fifth inning Sunday in Atlanta, Cole's last start. Pittsburgh quickly got on the board Saturday behind Cole, as Gregory Polanco singled and stole second. He then reached third and scored on a pair of fielder's choice grounders by Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. Marte gave the Bucs their first crooked number in nearly a week by scoring on Josh Harrison's RBI single, and Pittsburgh posted two more runs in the second inning.
Franco en fuego: After needing last night's extra innings to extend his hitting streak to double digits, Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco wasted no time Saturday in moving his run to 11 consecutive games. In his first at-bat of the game, Franco singled on a ground ball to right field in the second inning. It's the longest streak by a Phillie this season.
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Dating back to Sept. 7, Cole has gone 14-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 18 starts. He leads the Major Leagues in wins during that stretch. In his last 19 starts at PNC Park, he has gone 12-2 with a 2.74 ERA.
Cole also became the quickest Pirates pitcher to reach 10 wins since Vernon Law in 1960. Cole broke into double digits in Pittsburgh's 61st game and his 13th start of the year.
"It speaks to how we go about our business and weathered the storm. We come out on top, and we're playing good baseball right now, but it's nothing to take for granted. We have a better appreciation for how we're playing now because of how we played earlier." -- Cole, on the Pirates' recent play.
"He has executed pitches for a very, very long time now. That's a big game to close out. That was just a hard game all day, and to get your closer in there to take care of things like that is why we're glad to have him." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on closer Mark Melancon converting his 18th straight save.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Pirates left fielder Marte attempted to steal second base, and he was originally called safe. Phillies second baseman Utley, who gloved catcher Carlos Ruiz's high throw and applied the tag, kept his mitt on Marte, who briefly lifted his foot off the bag. After a review lasting two minutes and 37 seconds, the call on the field was overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Phillies: Left-handed ace Cole Hamels, coming off a rough outing, will try to rebound as he and the Phillies take on the Pirates at 1:35 ET on Sunday at PNC Park for the series finale. Hamels (3.19 ERA, 5-5 record) has recovered well from every uneven start this year, allowing just four earned runs combined in the four starts following losses. After giving up five runs in his last start, the southpaw will have another chance at redemption.
Pirates: Right-hander A.J. Burnett will make his second start of the season against the Phillies, for whom he pitched last season, as the Pirates seek a three-game sweep. Burnett has won six of his last seven starts after beginning the year 0-1 with a 1.45 ERA in his first five outings. Burnett held Philadelphia to two runs (one earned) over seven innings on May 12 at Citizens Bank Park.