Top prospect Cole lives up to billing in stellar debut
Righty retires 13 in row in one stretch, hits two-run single in first at-bat
By Tom Singer 6/11/2013 11:57 PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The night began with intoxicating anticipation, and ended in unbridled celebration. Gerrit Cole had not come to let anyone down, he wasn't here to add another layer of baseball disappointment to a city a generation-deep in them.
Instead, Cole blanked the defending World Series champion Giants through the first six innings of his Major League debut, earning the 8-2 victory and the city's gratitude.
And afterward, he assessed the occasion in the manner of the little boy that all men who play this game have to have in them.
"I was not nervous before the game. And that was weird. I was nervous about not being nervous," Cole said. "Fortunately, there were a lot of great defensive plays behind me, and the guys hit the crap out of the ball, so that helped."
A PNC Park crowd of 30,614 -- exceptional for a Tuesday night and including a walk-up in excess of 10,000 -- saw the Pirates raise their record to 38-26. They also moved 4 1/2 games ahead of the Giants for the National League's No. 2 Wild Card playoff spot.
Cole charged out of Triple-A Indianapolis with billing as the Bucs' No. 1 prospect, and lived up to it as well as to his selection as the overall No. 1 choice in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
"A big night for the organization," manager Clint Hurdle said. "To see a young man step up, maintain composure and compete like he did in his first Major League game, it's special."
Cole comfortably led ,5-0, and had retired 13 straight batters until Andres Torres led off the seventh with a single that triggered the brief rally that ended his shutout and his evening.
In 6 1/3 innings, Cole was charged with seven hits and two runs, as he struck out two without a walk.
Cole also delivered the Pirates' first two runs with a second-inning bases-loaded single off two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.
Bat King Cole.
"I just got lucky," Cole said of his first hit since high school. "I got lucky up there, guys. I'm not a hitter."
Aluminum bats ruled at Orange Lutheran High School, so had he ever before had a hit with wood?
"Yeah. I've had a couple," Cole said, with mock indignation. "I'm not terrible."
The Giants stirred against him in the seventh, and as soon as Hurdle emerged to get him with one out, a roar formed in 30,614 throats. It continued to build as Cole handed over the ball and started off the mound, and the house stood as one by the time the kid reached the lip of the dugout and descended into it.
During that brief walk toward teammates' waiting fist bumps, Cole kept his eyes glued to the ground.
"I tried not to look up," Cole said. "If I did, I figured I'd smile, and that wouldn't have been cool. But it was very much appreciated. It was very hard for me to keep a stone face."
Those farewell cheers were simply the last of many.
As he walked in from the bullpen before the start of the game, Cole was welcomed by a standing ovation from the fans sitting around the Bucs' dugout. That applause was on the promise.
The rest of the ovations were on merit, as Cole earned every tribute that came his way. And the salutes were non-stop, as Pittsburgh celebrated this reemergence into baseball's national spotlight.
Cole blew away his first big league batter, San Francisco leadoff man Gregor Blanco, on three straight fastballs of 96, 96 and 99 mph.
"I couldn't feel my legs after that," he said. "The crowd went crazy, and I didn't expect that. It was a lot of fun."
He made his point. He can throw fire. Then it was almost a case of Cole saying, "OK, can I just pitch now?"
He would not strike out anybody else, until Buster Posey leading off the sixth.
On the heels of a forceful weekend in Chicago, Cole was the first Pirates starter in nearly a week to allow a first-inning hit. Two of them, in fact, a liner by Marco Scutaro then an infield single with two outs by Hunter Pence.
There were two more in the second, along with an 0-2 pitch that got Blanco in his right armpit, loading the bases with two outs.
That was about the time Cole got his bearings and realized where he was and what he had to do to stay there.
"I told myself, 'I better make a pitch here, or we're screwed. Just get over it, and let's go.'"
He wriggled off that hook on a fly ball by Scutaro and, soon after that, an already enchanting evening morphed into the magical. Minutes after escaping his own bases-loaded jam, Cole undertook his first Major League at-bat in the bottom under the same conditions.
The Bucs had loaded 'em up around Lincecum on consecutive singles by Russell Martin, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker before Clint Barmes became the first out on a foul pop. Cole worked his way back from 0-2 to a full count -- then ripped the 3-2 offering authoritatively into right-center for two runs.
"I was just excited to get the lead," he said. "It allows you to be aggressive, and start challenging people when there's nobody on base. They can hit it out of the park, and it's 2-1 and you still have the lead."
The Bucs doubled Cole's lead to 4-0 in the fifth with the help of the Giants' right fielder, Pence. Andrew McCutchen was aboard with a walk when Garrett Jones ripped a single to right field that Pence let under his glove to the wall, chasing McCutchen home and Jones to third, from where he also scored on Alvarez's single off shortstop Brandon Crawford's glove.
Starling Marte made it 5-0 in the sixth with a solo homer off Jose Mijares. After the Giants dented the lead with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh, the Bucs answered with three in the bottom, two of them on Alvarez's 14th homer, off George Kontos.
Watching by that time from the bench, one thought kept going through Cole's mind:
"I was just excited that we had the lead ... and I'd given it my best."