Gerrit Cole notched yet another tremendous start as the Bucs won the first in a three-game series in San Francisco Monday night, 4-3.
The Giants were the first to score. Nori Aoki led off the bottom of the first with a single and stole second, and then Hunter Pence reached with one-out on a throwing error by Jung-Ho Kang. Cole then allowed both runners to move up with a wild pitch. He struck out Buster Posey, but then Brandon Belt doubled to make it 2-0.
The Pirates narrowly missed a big chance to make noise in the third. Cole reached on an error, and then Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco followed with a walk and a single, respectively. That brought Andrew McCutchen to the plate with one out, and he hit a fly ball deep to the gap in left-center, only to have Angel Pagan make an excellent running catch. That did at least bring home one run, but that was all, and the Pirates' half of the inning ended with them down 2-1.
Cole, meanwhile, kept the Pirates in the game, blazing through the middle innings with dominant stuff. Then Chris Stewart led off the fifth with a double. Posey threw Stewart out when Cole tried to bunt him over, but the Bucs still loaded the bases, as Ryan Vogelsong hit Harrison and walked Polanco. This was exactly the sort of opening a weak-ish starting pitcher was supposed to provide, and up came McCutchen with the bases loaded yet again. That unfortunately only led to McCutchen's second near-miss of the evening, as he hit another fly ball, this time to the right-center gap, only to have it run down by Hunter Pence. Cole tagged up to score the tying run. The Pirates did then finally break through, as Neil Walker hit a line-drive double to center to put the Bucs up 4-2.
With the way Cole was going, that felt like all he would need, and it was. There was a bit of tension in the sixth as Cole loaded the bases with no outs by giving up two singles and a walk. But increasingly, in Cole's starts, I get even more weirdly confident when he gets in tight spots, because that's when his animal instinct kicks in and he really starts biting people. In this case, he whiffed Brandon Belt (and the slider he got Belt to check-swing on was pure filth), then got Brandon Crawford to ground into a double play. For good measure, Cole came out to pitch the seventh and struck out two of the three batters he saw in a perfect inning.
For the evening, Cole struck out nine batters and walked two, giving up just two unearned runs. By any reasonable standard, it was a fantastic start, but Cole easily might have thought he was inconsistent, or that he wasn't taking enough advantage of the very favorable strike zone he and Vogelsong were getting, or something. He frequently looked angry, sometimes staring down Giants hitters after whiffing them, and you could imagine him cursing himself for not pitching a no-hitter. He's quickly become great, and part of the burden of being great is the knowledge that you can be even better even when you're terrific.
Tony Watson pitched the eighth and gave up one run thanks to Aoki's leadoff double, getting a bit of a break when Posey was called out on fan interference when a guy in a Pirates jersey got in Polanco's way on a foul ball. Mark Melancon pitched the ninth. Melancon against Belt, Crawford and Pagan in a one-run game is the sort of situation I'd prefer to have Melancon avoid, but give Melancon credit for notching a 1-2-3 inning without much trouble.