ST. LOUIS -- The last time -- the onlyprevious time -- Gerrit Cole had pitched seven shutout innings while allowing fewer than six hits had come on Sept. 9, 2013, in Texas, re-igniting the Pirates right after they had been drubbed in St. Louis.
This time, on Sunday night, Cole ruled out the Busch Stadium drubbing itself, two-hitting the Cardinals for the first seven innings of the Bucs' 7-1 win that put them back to within 5 1/2 games of the Cardinals in the division.
"He's shown the ability to [rise to the occasion]," manager Clint Hurdle said after watching Cole overcome a shaky beginning to retire 19 of the last 23 Cardinals he faced.
Cole showed the ability to do a lot of things on his way to his 16th win -- and no Pittsburgh pitcher has won more in 24 years (John Smiley, 20 in 1991).
To the entertainment of a nation watching ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, Cole played the game as if campaigning for a new nickname. "Cole Train" didn't do him justice. "Do-It-All Cole" fit better.
In the fifth, while the Bucs clung to a 1-0 lead, Cole laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt off a John Lackey pitch that was sailing toward his eyes. Despite that, the Bucs did not score that inning, didn't score again until the seventh -- when with two outs, Cole himself singled for the eventual winning run. And later that inning, disregarding the half-hearted way most pitchers run the bases, he sped from first to third on Gregory Polanco's infield single.
"I was looking up in the zone, so I'm not late on the pitch," Cole said of the hit, "and got just enough of it to get it over [second baseman Kolten Wong's] head. And we always talk about having to take the extra base in that situation, to put 'em in a tougher position to get out of it."
The batter's box and the basepaths notwithstanding, Cole still did his best work atop the mound. He made 99 pitches, and the only two hits he allowed came in a seven-pitch sequence in the fifth, singles by Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter.
Once he survived a two-walk first, he assumed command.
"[Catcher Francisco Cervelli] called a great game. I didn't shake him off one time," Cole said. "We kept them off the board early, and that allowed us to get into a rhythm."
"[Cole] went out and took care of business," Hurdle said. "He used all four of his pitches, and was getting stronger as the game went on. A stellar outing."
Though Cole himself shrugged it off, Hurdle thought the righty was too amped at the outset. Cole has a tendency for that in situations that strike a personal chord -- pitching in his Angel Stadium backyard, or in Dodger Stadium, or against a boyhood role model.
"Obviously, I watched Lackey growing up," Cole said of the veteran who spent his first eight Major League seasons with the Angels. "Everyone knows what a competitor he is, and we knew we were in for a fistfight."
"[Cole is] a great pitcher right now," said Lackey. "He's got great stuff and really pitched well tonight against us."