PITTSBURGH -- Over his first 80 starts in the Majors, Gerrit Cole has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, punching out roughly a quarter of the batters he's faced.
Cole faced 28 Rockies hitters Friday night at PNC Park, and he didn't strike out any of them. But he still found a way to win, making big pitches in key spots and relying on Pittsburgh's stellar defense as he pitched seven innings in the Pirates' 2-1 win.
"That's the story of the game," Cole said. "That's a world-class effort on how to play defense in the Major Leagues."
Cole threw 72 strikes, but the Rockies only swung and missed at four of his 109 pitches. Struggling to get Colorado's deep lineup to chase his off-speed pitches, Cole leaned on his fastball.
That enabled Cole to get through seven innings after a scoreless eight-inning outing at Wrigley Field on Sunday. Cole has allowed one run -- Nolan Arenado's sixth-inning homer -- over his last 15 innings, bookending a stretch in which the Pirates won five of six games.
"He found a different way to win a game, to give us a chance to win the game," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Gerrit kept staying aggressive and kept going after them. It was impressive to watch. Without his best stuff, but the ability to compete out there is pretty special."
Meanwhile, Cole pointed to the defense behind him as the most special part of the Pirates' series-opening win. From his first inning until his last, Cole's teammates helped keep the Rockies off home plate.
In the first inning, third baseman David Freese snared a line drive from Carlos Gonzalez to start an inning-ending double play. A similar scenario played out in the second, when first baseman John Jaso started an unassisted double play after snaring DJ LeMahieu's liner.
With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, Jaso fielded Gerardo Parra's grounder and fired home to Francisco Cervelli for the force out -- the first time Jaso has had to make that play as a first baseman. LeMahieu then knocked a grounder to second base, but Josh Harrison scooped it up for the final out.
"That's always fun," Freese said. "When you can use your mitt or your arm to help out, especially your ace who's working his tail off when we're not doing too much to help him offensively. To keep him in there to get that W was big."
Left fielder Starling Marte rounded out the Pirates' one-night highlight reel in the seventh, fielding Charlie Blackmon's one-hopper and firing a 100.6-mph strike home to Cervelli. Marte's assist cut down the would-be tying run for Cole's last out.
"I guess it just shows you there's a bunch of different ways you can cut the cake," Cole said. "We're out there pitching for wins, not for stat lines.
"I wasn't able to create as many swing and misses as I needed to. But when your defense is playing like that, you'd be stupid not to trust them."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.