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One bad inning wrecks Pirates’ opener

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

For four and two-thirds innings, it looked like Gerrit Cole’s rough 2016 season was a thing of the past. Featuring a fastball that hit 98-99 mph at times, through the first four innings Cole allowed just a second-inning single, which was erased by a double play, and a fourth-inning walk. He also retired the first two hitters in the fifth.

And then it all fell apart.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., hit a double down the right-field line that Andrew McCutchen misplayed into a triple. Then Pablo Sandoval, of all people, beat out an infield hit on a grounder into the hole on which Jordy Mercer made a pop-fly throw to first. Catcher Sandy Leon followed with a bunt that Cole couldn’t field. Dustin Pedroia singled in run number two and Andrew Benintendi homered to right-center. Cole gave up yet another hit before finally escaping the inning, finishing his day.

The Pirates’ offense, meanwhile, slept through the first six innings. Their biggest opportunity came in the second, when they managed not to score on two hits and a walk, thanks to Gregory Polanco getting caught stealing. Other than that, Rick Porcello parlayed an average fastball into a lot of weak contact and five strikeouts through six innings.

The Pirates finally came alive in the seventh, when a David Freese single and a Francisco Cervelli double put runners on second and third. Josh Bell dribbled one back to the box for the first out, but Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, the latter facing reliever Matt Barnes, lined RBI singles. A walk to Adam Frazier loaded the bases and a fly ball by Starling Marte brought in a third run, but McCutchen fanned for the third time, finishing 0-for-4 and ending the scoring threat.

The Pirates got a scoreless inning of relief apiece from Juan Nicasio, Felipe Rivero and Daniel Hudson, with Hudson striking out the side in the eighth (although he did allow two runners). But the offense managed nothing in the eighth. In the ninth, Bell, after three poor at-bats previously, doubled to lead off against Craig Kimbrel. Harrison and Mercer struck out, leaving unanswered the question of what point a left-handed hitter like John Jaso serves when the other team has a super-dominant, right-handed closer. (Maybe it’s because the Pirates are short on utility infielders. Oh, wait . . . .) Frazier got plunked, his fourth time on base (the others coming via a single, a walk and an error), but Marte popped up to end the game, or the season if you’re of a hysterical mindset.