Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole won his first four career starts, but there were times in each that he looked like the rookie he is despite being one of the most heralded prospects in baseball.
So it was inevitable he would have a few days when he labored through innings and struggled to make pitches, because bumps in the road and adversity are part of the growth process for young players.
Thursday, in his fifth start, Cole had one of those days as he was chased after 5 1/3 innings in a 6-4 Independence Day loss to the Philadelphia Phillies before 35,328 at PNC Park.
It was the ninth consecutive home crowd of 30,000 or more but only the third time in those nine games the Pirates (52-32) lost. Their previous series loss was a three-game sweep by Atlanta June 3-5.
Still, they remain five wins ahead of last year's 47-37 pace after 84 games and in first place in the National League Central Division.
Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 3:05 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago.
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Cole (4-1) wasn't terrible and had some good moments, including a 1-2-3 fourth inning, but he gave up eight hits, three earned runs and struck out five. He likely would have given up a run or two more had it not been for some excellent fielding.
Cole said he felt like he made a lot of good pitches in key spots but tipped his cap to the Phillies hitters who he said were just a little better than him Thursday.
"They fought off some good pitches," Cole said. "When I fell behind in the count, they put good swings on the ball and just kept getting hits. Whether it was a good pitch or not, if they had leverage, they were going to put the bat on the ball.
"I felt like I was in position to keep going but I have to get ahead of guys better and pick my spots to come over the plate more. But they put really good swings on good pitches sometimes and sometimes that happens."
Meanwhile, another Cole -- Phillies starter Cole Hamels -- showed flashes of the dominant pitcher he has been in recent years.
Hamels (3-11) pitched seven strong innings, gave up only five hits, yiekded two runs (one earned) and struck out seven.
The two runs he gave up came on a two-out, two-run single by Andrew McCutchen in the third.
That gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead but was all the damage they would do against Hamels, who retired the next 10 batters after McCutchen and gave up only one hit his final four innings.
"[Hamels'] command was sharp [Thursday] compared to what we had seen from him the last few outings," Hurdle said. "As far as his pitch efficiency and his overall command, it was a good outing for him."
The Phillies threatened in the first with two hits but Pirates catcher Russell Martin picked off Ben Revere and caught Jimmy Rollins attempting to steal second to help minimize the damage.
Cole, despite facing baserunners in three of the first four innings, managed to avoid trouble until the fifth when the Phillies (41-45) used two hits, including an RBI single by Revere, to get their first run.
Then, when Ryan Howard walked after a full count and Domonic Brown singled with one out in the sixth, Hurdle had seen enough and replaced Cole with Vin Mazzaro in hopes of getting out of the jam.
The walk to Howard was visibly frustrating to Cole, as it appeared the fourth ball could have been strike three, but Cole said those are the breaks and he needed to make a better pitch.
"It is called the black because [the call] could go either way," Cole said. "I don't know if they were strikes or balls but they were quality pitches and that is all you can worry about, just trying to make a pitch. There were some times I put guys away. For the most part, I got ahead of guys and when I did, I put them away."
Mazzaro gave up consecutive singles to Delmon Young, Kevin Frandsen and Carlos Ruiz to give the Phillies their first lead, 4-2.
Hurdle said it is easy to second-guess the decision to pull Cole but he felt it was time because Cole was not nearly as consistent with his location as he had been through most of his first four appearances.
"[Cole] was a little elevated with his fastball and they were able to put some swings on it," Hurdle said. "He continues to learn and grow but it is fun to watch him out there. [Decisions like pulling Cole] are the decisions a manager makes, when you go to your bullpen. If you go to your bullpen and it doesn't work, the decision wasn't the right one and if you leave your starter out there and he gives up the runs, it wasn't the right one.
"For me, it was a combination of the ball being elevated throughout the game and we're trying to continue to try and challenge him. ... But there will come a day when he not only will get through that inning, but he will get through the seventh inning as well."
The Phillies scored again before the inning was over on a fielder's choice and tacked on another run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Michael Young.
Hamels earned the win and closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his 17th save.
Starling Marte and Jose Tabata each had two hits for the Pirates.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise