Gerrit Cole led the Pirates to a quick 3-1 victory Sunday to complete a series win over the Nationals.
This one looked like a winner pretty much from the beginning. In the first, Cole retired the first two batters with a grouder and a strikeout, but then gave up a long line drive to Bryce Harper that bounced off the bottom of the Clemente Wall. Gregory Polanco grabbed it and threw a perfect strike to second to nail Harper trying to stretch his single into a double.
The Nationals did go up 1-0 with two outs in the top of the third as Michael Taylor hit a low fastball to right-center for a solo homer. But the Pirates took the lead in the bottom of the inning. Chris Stewart singled, moved to second on Cole's sacrifice, and scored on a single by Polanco. Polanco moved up to third on Taylor's throwing error and, after Nationals starter Joe Ross hit Starling Marte, came home on a line-drive single by Andrew McCutchen. (It was, overall, yet another good day for Polanco, who's hit safely in five straight games and suddenly doesn't look like such a liability.) Then, in the fourth, the Pirates went up 3-1 as Neil Walker hit his ninth homer of the season, blasting a 2-0 sinker way over the wall in center.
After that, both Cole and Ross cruised through the middle innings. Cole set down 11 batters in a row from the last out of the third inning through the beginning of the seventh, mowing down the Nationals quickly and efficiently. He gave up hits to Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond in the seventh, but got Wilson Ramos to ground into a double play to end the threat.
Ross, meanwhile, had another good outing in his second against the Bucs, striking out seven batters in six innings. Unlike last time, though, when he whiffed 11 Pirates batters in his third career start, the Bucs' offense did enough to stick him with the loss.
In the eighth, Clint Hurdle replaced Pedro Alvarez with Sean Rodriguez at first, a move that turned out well -- Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa singled to start a rally, but after Tony Watson relieved Cole, Rodriguez made a tough play on Bryce Harper's grounder to strand both runners. Cole finished the game with eight strikeouts and no walks over 7.2 innings, notching yet another dominant start. Mark Melancon pitched a clean ninth for the save.