MIAMI -- Pirates ace Gerrit Cole made an overdue return to the win column Thursday night at Marlins Park, throwing 7 1/3 innings and picking up his 15th victory as the Bucs beat the Marlins, 2-1.
It was Cole's first win, and his longest start, since July 26. He had been 0-3 with a 3.60 ERA in August, albeit with a pair of quality starts, before holding the Marlins to one run on five hits, while striking out four.
"I feel like we're playing well. I feel strong, executing pitches," Cole said. "We're playing good ball together as a unit. Hopefully we can keep moving forward."
The Pirates have won eight of their last 10 games and 12 of their last 15. With Thursday's victory, they remained 4 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central standings and increased their NL Wild Card lead over the Cubs to four games.
After a shaky start, Marlins left-hander Justin Nicolino rebounded to throw six solid innings. Miami had a man on second base with one out in the eighth inning, but Pittsburgh setup man Tony Watson quelled the rally, setting up closer Mark Melancon's Major League-leading 41st save.
"I thought [Nicolino] went out and battled," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said. "He didn't have his best command -- the four walks is very non-typical for him -- but the ability to go and navigate through the sixth and only allow two runs and give us opportunities was great."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED El Toro goes deep: It's not easy to hit a ball beyond the center-field fence at Marlins Park, with the high, lime-green wall standing 418 feet away. But Pedro Alvarez crushed an 85-mph cutter from Nicolino well over the fence and into the bushes beyond it, a 443-foot solo shot that gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning. The blast was Alvarez's 21st homer of the year, just his third against a left-hander. More >
"I hit it and started to run. Once I saw it went over the fence, kind of a sigh of relief," Alvarez said. "You just never know here, man. It's just such a big park."
Timeout: The Marlins put runners on the corners with one out in the seventh inning after a single by Marcell Ozuna. Up came Derek Dietrich, who fell behind, 1-2. On the next pitch, Cole began his delivery, but had to stop awkwardly as home-plate umpire Alan Porter signaled for a timeout. Two pitches later, Dietrich sent a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Martin Prado and making it a one-run game.
Nicolino battles through six: It looked like the veteran Pirates lineup might get to Nicolino early on, but the rookie battled his way to a six-inning, two-run outing -- keyed by escaping the third inning. Cole singled and Gregory Polanco walked to begin the frame, but the lefty forced Starling Marte into a double-play groundout. Then, after walking the next two batters to load the bases, Nicolino got Francisco Cervelli to fly out to right field to end the frame and keep the Pirates' lead at 1-0.
"This is a tough lineup and they've been swinging the bat really well as of late," Nicolino said. "The biggest thing was just going out there and executing pitches. At times, I fell behind early, but the defense made some great plays for me."
Ozuna heating up: By logging a two-hit day, Ozuna recorded his third two-hit game of the four-game series. The Marlins center fielder -- who was recalled from Triple-A New Orleans on Aug. 15 -- also went 2-for-4 with a double in Monday and Wednesday's contests. In seven career home games vs. the Pirates, Ozuna has 10 hits. More >
"It's been, more often than not, a complete package. We're finding offense when we need it. We're finding pitching when we need it." -- Manager Clint Hurdle on the Pirates' recent winning ways
"He's a pretty special arm and you know you're in for a battle any time he's the opposing pitcher. His stuff is quality and he's one of the better guys in the National League, no doubt." -- Jennings on Cole
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
This was the Pirates' last game of the season against the National League East. They finished with a 24-9 (.727) record against the division. Before this year, their best record against the division came in 1992, at 61-29 (.678).
Pirates catcher Cervelli was ejected during the third inning, seemingly for arguing a ball/strike call with Porter. With a 1-0 count against Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis, Cole fired a 94-mph fastball to Cervelli. The pitch appeared to cross the plate low and just outside the strike zone. Cervelli turned to speak to Porter and was ejected shortly after that, with Chris Stewart replacing him behind the plate.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: The Bucs will try to push their winning streak behind left-hander Francisco Liriano to 11 straight as they return to PNC Park on Friday night to kick off a three-game series against the Rockies at 7:05 p.m. ET. The Pirates have won Liriano's last 10 starts, and the lefty is 5-0 with a 3.19 ERA during that stretch.
Marlins:Adam Conley (1-1, 4.88 ERA) gets the start as the Marlins open a three-game series at Washington at 7:05 p.m. ET. The rookie lefty was good his last time out, tossing six innings of one-run ball against the Phillies on Sunday.