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Cole, aided by stellar defense, gets first career complete game in 10-1 blowout

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Put a star next to this one.

After last night's miserable performance by Francisco Liriano, the Pirates needed a strong outing from their other putative ace, Gerrit Cole. He responded with one of the most dominant performances of his career: his first-ever complete game, a 93-pitch, 69-strike, three-hit, no-walk masterpiece. His repertoire featured a crisp fastball that was hitting 97 mph from the first inning, pinpoint control, and a sharp curve. After throwing 21 pitches in a first inning that included a leadoff double by Nori Aoki and a fastball that hit Robinson Cano in the calf, Cole pitched eight efficient innings. His night was marred only by another double by Aoki and a one-out sacrifice fly by Cano in the sixth that scored the only Mariners run.

The 10-1 win also featured key hits from two recently cold hitters, Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang, and brilliant defense all over the field by the Pirates defense.

Lefty James Paxton dominated the Pirates in the first two innings with a fastball that reached 99, but in the bottom of the third, Josh Harrison led off with a hard-hit ball that got past Aoki in left for a triple that might have been an inside-the-park homer had Harrison's indecision not caused him to stumble between third and home before scurrying back to safety. With one out, Jordy Mercer doubled to left scoring Harrison, McCutchen doubled in Mercer after an infield single by David Freese, and Kang worked a two-out bases-loaded walk for the third Pirates run.

Kang put the game out of reach in the seventh. In the second inning of work by newly acquired Mariners reclamation project Drew Storen, Cole and Mercer led off with singles, McCutchen loaded the bases with a one-out soft flair to right, and Starling Marte worked a long at-bat for a walk. Nathan Karns came in to replace Storen, and Kang laced Karns' first pitch to left for a three-run double that gave the Pirates a 7-1 lead.

The litany of great plays by the Pirates' defense tonight is remarkable: top of the second, great play to his right by Mercer on Mike Zunino's grounder and diving, juggling, barehanded play by Harrison on a hard-hit grounder by Shawn O'Malley; top of the third, acrobatic, highlight-reel, behind-the-back flip by first baseman David Freese to Cole covering first; top of the seventh, another great play by Harrison on a smash in short right by Adam Lind, running catch by Sean Rodriguez in deep right off Leonys Martin, and great grab at third by Kang and stretch at first by Freese to again retire the ill-fated Zunino; top of the eighth, better catch by Rodriguez in right center that prevented a third double by Aoki; and top of the ninth, game-ending double play started by Harrison on a perfect feed to Mercer after a rocket by Kyle Seager knocked him onto his back and into the outfield.

The final gift bestowed on edgy Pirates fans by the team tonight was a three-run no-doubter by McCutchen to deep center in the eighth, completing a three-for-five night with a double and a homer. This performance by the troubled team icon should provide two days' respite from escalating talk of a move to the depths of the batting order.

Tonight's game was every bit as uplifting as last night's was dispiriting, and the two-game series with the Mariners was a perfect distillation of an enigmatic season. An ace who pitches the way Cole did tonight could help to provide some clarity.