Cole earned the title of ace last season, finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. But he had never finished a game he started until Wednesday night. In 87 Major League starts before this, he had recorded exactly one out in the ninth inning. In 44 Minor League starts, he never went the distance.
"I think it's part of the ownership of working your way to be a staff ace or an ace in the league," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's got work to do. He's still cutting teeth in some areas. That type of performance is the type of performance you need to put yourself in that position, though."
As efficiently as he worked through the Mariners' lineup in his third start off the disabled list, Cole probably could have pitched most of the night. He needed only 93 pitches, 20 of them in the first inning alone, and struck out six without a walk.
"I think that's the first complete game we've had against us all year," said Mariners manager Scott Servais, whose team is now 10-4 in Interleague Play. "We ran his pitch count up a little in the first inning, but after that he got in a pretty good groove. Then they played outstanding defense late in the game, three outstanding plays in the seventh and the play in the ninth. But tip your cap to him. He threw the ball well."
Struggling through the worst season of his career, Andrew McCutchen enjoyed a breakout night at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a homer in the eighth inning. The three-run blast was the 166th of McCutchen's career, tying him with Dave Parker for fifth most in Pirates history.
Mercer and McCutchen ripped run-scoring doubles in the third, and the Pirates' next two runs came on bases-loaded walks. Seattle starter James Paxton walked Jung Ho Kang in the third, and newly acquired reliever Drew Storen walked Starling Marte in the seventh to give Pittsburgh a three-run lead. Kang, scuffling at the plate along with McCutchen, delivered the knockout blow in the seventh, lining a bases-clearing double down the left-field line off Nathan Karns.
"They're an integral part of our offense. We need to get them in play," Hurdle said of McCutchen and Kang. "They want to be in play. Tonight, both of them were in play, and you see the difference they can make."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tripped-up triple: Harrison was thinking four, but he settled for three. Harrison led off the Pirates' three-run third with a line drive that skipped under Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki's glove. Harrison rounded third, despite third-base coach Rick Sofield's stop sign, but he tripped on his way to the plate. He doubled back to third base, lying flat over the bag as he signaled back to Pittsburgh's dugout.
Alley-oop: Batting with one out and nobody on base in the third inning, Aoki bounced a chopper toward Freese. He knocked the ball down but didn't have complete control of it, eventually resorting to flipping the ball behind his back as Cole ran to cover first base. Cole reached out to barehand Freese's flip and ran to first, forcing out Aoki and completing the spectacular defensive play.
"He led me really well. I wasn't going to reach with my glove to go get it," Cole said. "He led me right to the bag. That was a really good play." More >
Aoki adventures: The Mariners' left fielder had two of Seattle's three hits against Cole, both doubles down the first-base line. His second two-bagger leading off the sixth resulted in Seattle's first run as he scored on Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 3-1. But Aoki also played a big part in the Pirates' three-run burst in the third as he missed his sliding attempt at Harrison's leadoff line drive to open the floodgates for Pittsburgh's one big inning against Paxton.
"The light got in my eyes, so I wanted to stop the ball with my body," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. "So that's why I ended up sliding. I tried to guess where it was going to be."
What's in Storen for him? The Mariners didn't waste any time putting Storen to work. He arrived just two hours before the game after being acquired from the Blue Jays in a Tuesday night trade. The former Nationals closer worked a 1-2-3 sixth with three groundouts in relief of Paxton, but he gave up four runs on three hits and a walk while getting just one out in the seventh. One of the hits was a Mercer bunt that stayed fair, and the walk came on a tough no-call on a checked swing by Marte. Storen also didn't get much help from Karns, who surrendered Kang's three-run double to allow all three inherited runners to score as the Pirates opened a 7-1 lead.
"He got through the first inning, and looking where we were at in our lineup [with the pitcher batting second in the next inning in the NL game], I probably pushed the envelope a little too far with that one," Servais said. "But I liked what I saw. He's going to help us, there's no doubt. But I probably tried to extend him a little too far tonight." More >
"He had good life on his fastball and was commanding it well. He was good today. He's always been good. You just look at his ERA. He just did what he does." -- Aoki, on Cole
"The defense behind him was pretty significant and pretty special. More than a handful of plays were top shelf. But it comes when you're throwing strikes. We were lined up in good areas, guys reached out and made plays, but it started on the mound." -- Hurdle, on the Pirates' defense behind Cole
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cole was the first Pirates pitcher to throw a complete game on fewer than 100 pitches since Francisco Liriano went the distance on 94 pitches in St. Louis on Aug. 14, 2013.
McCutchen's next home run will put him alone in fifth place on the Pirates' all-time list. Who's next after Parker? Barry Bonds, who hit 176 homers in a Pittsburgh uniform.
WHAT'S NEXT Mariners: Seattle gets an off-day in Chicago on Thursday before opening a three-game series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs at 11:20 a.m. PT on Friday. Hisashi Iwakuma faces NL All-Star Jon Lester in a duel between two hot starters. Iwakuma is 10-2 with a 3.69 ERA in his past 12 outings, while Lester is 6-1 with a 3.49 ERA in his past 11.
Pirates: After an off-day on Thursday, the Pirates will begin a three-game series against the Brewers on Friday at 8:10 ET at Miller Park. Hurdle announced after Wednesday's game that the Bucs' starter for the series opener will be Triple-A left-hander Steven Brault. He will oppose Brewers rookie Junior Guerra in his second Major League start.