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Pirates put old friend Cole on ropes, but no KO


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Kevin Newman fails to beat out a bunt in the third inning Tuesday night in Houston. - AP

HOUSTON -- On the surface, it appeared that Gerrit Cole dominated his old team. He allowed only one run in six innings against the Pirates, the team that drafted him first overall in 2011 from UCLA and watched him turn into an All-Star and 19-game winner.

However, the Pirates at least made Cole work Tuesday night before falling, 5-1, to the Astros in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park. The Pirates (36-41) saw their four-game winning streak end.

Cole (7-5) needed 104 pitches to get his 18 outs. The Pirates also reached him for seven hits and two walks. And Cole recorded a season-low three strikeouts after entering the game leading the major leagues in that category with 148 in 96 2/3 innings over his first 16 starts.

It turned out Cole was dominant when he had to be, though. The Pirates put runners in scoring position in four of his six innings but had just one hit in eight at-bats in those situations and stranded seven runners while he was in the game.

“He was able to get outs when he needed them,” said Clint Hurdle, who was Cole’s manager throughout the five seasons he spent with the Pirates from 2013-17. “We had runners on base, but he was able to keep us off the plate. We had a big chance with the bases loaded and he made the pitches to get out of it. He mixed all his pitches in. He threw some changeups, threw some curveballs, used the slider. Fastball was elevated, good velocity, good life. One of those games where at the end of the day, you're looking for the big hit and we didn't get it.”

The bases-loaded situation came in the sixth, an inning when the Pirates scored their lone run as Corey Dickerson hit a leadoff double and scored on Melky Cabrera’s two-out single. Colin Moran singled and Jose Osuna walked to load the bases, but Cole induced Elias Diaz to tap out to end the inning.

“That’s what good pitchers do, they shut you down when the situation gets tight,” Adam Frazier said. “And he’s a good pitcher. We had some tough at-bats against him, made him bring the ball into the zone, but we couldn’t get that big hit. That’s baseball sometimes.”

The most frustrating moment for the Pirates came in the third inning with the game still scoreless. Starling Marte hit a drive to right field but Josh Reddick was able to reach above the fence and steal away a home run.

The emotions of Cole facing the Pirates weren’t as high as might have been expected. Cole downplayed the significance coming into the game and the Pirates didn’t make a big deal about it.

However, Cole did admit to getting a little nostalgic seeing his old team.

“It was unique,” Cole said. “I remember facing these guys in spring training and throwing live BPs and throwing sim games and coming up with some of them. There's just a lot of memories that you have.”

The Pirates’ hitters, though, weren’t in the mood to reminisce.

“You can’t worry about if someone was your teammate before once the game starts,” Frazier said. “You’re trying to get hits and score runs off him.”

Cole was certainly a good pitcher during his five seasons with the Pirates, going 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in 175 starts and helped them to three consecutive postseason appearances from 2013-15.

However, Cole has become an elite pitcher in the 1 ½ seasons since being traded to the Astros in January 2018, going 22-10 with a 3.06 ERA in 49 starts.

Trevor Williams (2-2), who pitched into the seventh inning while taking the loss, broke into the major leagues late in the 2016 season. Cole became a mentor to Williams the following year. Thus, Williams has a unique perspective of Cole.

“He’s a great competitor and a great teammate,” Williams said. “When he was here with us, you saw the flashes of greatness, the 100-mph fastball, the big breaking ball, but now he’s been around guys who have had sustained success at the major-league level, guys who have been on top of their games for years, guys who have won multiple Cy Youngs. You put him in an environment where he doesn’t have to be ‘the guy’ and he’s been able to continue to learn and improve, and now he’s one of the best pitchers in the game.”

Williams gave up a two-run home run to Yuli Gurriel in the fourth inning to open the scoring. After the Pirates scored in the top of the sixth, Alex Bregman countered with a home run in the bottom of the inning to give the Astros a 3-1 lead.

Williams allowed one more run in the seventh and that was more than enough for the Astros as Josh James, Will Harris and Collin McHugh followed Cole with one scoreless inning each.

“It wasn’t the dagger,” Williams said of Bregman’s homer, “but we needed a shutdown inning after scratching a run off Gerrit to keep it a 2-1 ballgame. I didn’t do my job right there and it cost us.”

My Five Thoughts from Tuesday night can be found here:

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