Collier: Surging offense also enjoys Cole experience


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The Great Gerrit Cole Issue might have absorbed an ounce of clarity for the Pirates Friday night, but probably not in any way they anticipated.

After four victories in his first four major league starts, the analytical pitching basis for sending him back to Indianapolis shrank almost beyond perception, just as the potential long-term financial impact of his success grew more and more discomfiting for management's legendary bottom-line preservationists.

But with everything that is going on with the best team in the major leagues -- by which I mean the Pirates, in case you haven't been paying attention -- the baseball people might want to keep the organization's best young stud pitcher around just for what he has meant to the offense.

Not talking about Cole's bat here, although he is hitting .333 with a run scored and a couple of RBIs, but rather the stunning bursts of Pirates production that accompany his every trip to the mound.

In Cole's four starts, the Pirates have scored 8, 6, 5 and 10 runs, more than 7 per game, which translates to one major jolt of adrenaline after another for a team that came into this weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers hitting a pretty squishy .242.

"It allows me to have a little bit of breathing room out there," Cole said after a 10-3 victory launched by a seven-run second, the fattest Pirates inning of the season. "But my focus didn't change after the first inning. I was just trying to grind it out. I was looking back to Charlie [Morton]'s performance in Anaheim after he had that crazy inning [when the Angels put up five]. He just kept battling and we wound up getting a win out of there. That's all I was trying to do. Didn't matter if I wound up giving up three runs or five, as long as we got the win."

As to the bigger picture, Cole's fourth victory was the Pirates' 49th win, the significance of which shouldn't be overstated, which has nothing to do with the matter of whether I can attempt to do just that, so here goes:

Only five Pirates teams in the past 50 years have won 49 times in the first half of a season (81 games), and all five of them won division championships. Talkin' about teams in 1991 (50-31), 1990 (49-32), 1975 (50-31), 1972 (51-30) and 1971 (51-30).

"These guys like to play," Clint Hurdle said after his club's seventh consecutive win, the one that ran their home record to 26-13 "They know what's at stake. They know where they want to go. And that there's a certain way to get there. It's easier said than done, but it's something we talk about every series. We want everybody engaged on every pitch, all over the place. Guys in the bullpen, the guys watching the game, defensive players, nobody takes a pitch off.

"Every at-bat counts, everything counts; it's just the way we're keeping our focus. It's one of the things that has helped us come from behind. You have to have a slow heartbeat. You can't panic. You're not gonna win every game but your intent has to be to win every game. You have to meet the demands the game presents to you and we were able to do that in overcoming an early deficit."

The Pirates who played to their fourth consecutive sellout Friday night still have a chance to tie those last two teams for the best first half around here in 50 years. It has something to do with being the hottest thing this side of Death Valley. The Pirates who have banged together the longest win streak in nine years on a fairly fail-safe formula -- the offense has scored 49 times (seven per game) while the starting pitchers have not allowed more than three runs in any game, not only in these seven games, but in the seven before that.

Cole threatened that streak by allowing three in the first inning as he failed to command his four-seam fastball. Had Jonathan Lucroy not beaten one of them into a Neil Walker-triggered double play, Cole might not have been around for the second. But the defense continued to dazzle thereafter, with Russell Martin nailing Nori Aoki trying to steal second with one out and Andrew McCutchen following that immediately with a sprinting, sliding catch of Jean Segura's fast-falling liner in right-center.

The Pirates are pretty simply doing everything right, and that includes creating with this cadenza of excellence a uniquely positive climate in which it appears even the Great Gerrit Cole Issue will work itself out.

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Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. First Published June 29, 2013 4:00 AM


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