Gerrit Cole did today what the stopper in a pitching rotation is supposed to do. In a 116-pitch outing, the longest of his career, Cole and two Pirates relievers shut out the Atlanta Braves 3-0. Cole won his ninth game, recording seven strikeouts while issuing three walks and giving up six hits. His ERA now stands at a league-leading 1.73, and murmurs about a Cy Young Award and starting role in the All-Star Game grow louder. By taking two of three from the Braves, the Pirates completed their best road trip of 10 or more games since 2005, winning seven of 10. They have now won 13 of their past 16 games and are six games over .500 at 31-25.
Braves lefty starter Alex Wood matched shutout innings with Cole until the top of the fifth, when the Pirates scored all three of their runs. After Wood struck out Andrew McCutchen with the bases loaded and one out, he quickly got two strikes on Starling Marte. But Marte stayed alive valiantly, fouling off two nasty fastballs from Wood before lining a hanging 0-2 breaking pitch into right center, scoring Cole and Josh Harrison from third and second. Jung-Ho Kang then lined Wood's next pitch, a change-up, into left field, scoring Jordy Mercer with the Bucs' third and final run.
Three walks contributed to Cole's high pitch count, but as he often does, Cole excelled in key situations to escape unscathed. In the third inning, Cole loaded the bases by giving up singles to Jace Peterson and Cameron Maybin before hitting Freddie Freeman in the leg. But he then found his extra gear, striking out Nick Markakis on a nasty slider in the dirt after a 98-mph fastball and getting Juan Uribe on a bouncer to third. In the bottom of the sixth, the Braves again loaded the bases, this time with two outs, on a flare single by Uribe and walks to Andrelton Simmons and Todd Cunningham. But Cole again rose to the occasion by striking out pinch hitter Joey Terdoslavich. His first pitch to the unfortunately named Terdoslavich was a 99-mph fastball. Unfair.
After Cole departed, Arquimedes Caminero threw more heat at the Braves in the eighth, and then 2015 Mark Melancon came in in the ninth and did a plausible imitation of pre-2015 Mark Melancon, striking out two and hitting 92 mph on the radar gun on one of his fastballs. Melancon is now tied for the league lead in saves with 18.
These are the good times.