The cheers when Gerrit Cole toed the mound at PNC Park Tuesday night seemed appropriate. The fans likely didn't expect to serenade Cole again as he stood on first base, triumphantly flashing a 'Z' toward the Pirates dugout.
But Cole's wowing of his audience became a theme for the night.
Cole was a pitching coach's dream. He threw strike after strike and worked off his fastball, which sat around 95 mph and touched 99. He did not walk a batter. Cole earned the win in his major league debut, an 8-2 Pirates victory against the World Series champion San Francisco Giants at PNC Park.
Before Cole's start, the 22-year-old said, he wasn't nervous. Then, he was nervous about not being nervous. As he walked from the dugout to the bullpen minutes before the game began, he said he thought about pounding the strike zone.
"Just be aggressive," he said. "You can't say enough about putting hitters on their heels when the count's always 0-1 or 1-2. It's huge. It cuts down on the swings, makes mistakes stay in the ballpark."
Cole (1-0) allowed two runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. He threw 59 of his 81 pitches for strikes and, at one point, retired 13 consecutive batters.
"The tempo was good, his pace, his focus," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Down in the zone, he maintained, all the way 'til the end."
Cole's debut dovetailed with the Pirates' success in the opening third of the season, as they chase two teams in the strong Central Division despite owning one of the best records in the National League. Cole, the Pirates' top prospect, joined the organization as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. The Pirates selected there because of their major league-worst 57-105 record in 2010. Two years after the Pirates drafted Cole, his first win moved the team to 38-26 in mid-June.
James McDonald, Jeanmar Gomez and Wandy Rodriguez are on the disabled list, so, for now, Cole joins A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton, who will come off the DL to start Thursday, in the starting five.
Cole didn't disappoint the 30,614 who braved delays entering the ballpark, the result of new security measures that took effect Tuesday. His first pitch hit 96 mph. Two pitches later, Gregor Blanco struck out swinging as a 99 mph fastball sailed past.
"I didn't really feel my legs after that," Cole said.
Cole pitched around runners in the second as Andres Torres and Joaquin Arias singled. Tim Lincecum's sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third, and Cole hit Blanco in the ribs with an 0-2, 97 mph fastball to load the bases and present him with his welcoming moment.
"I was like, 'I better make a pitch or we're [in trouble],' " Cole said. "Get over it and let's go."
He forced Marco Scutaro to fly out.
Impressive through two innings on the mound, Cole raised the bar in the bottom of the second. Russell Martin, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker singled, and Cole came to the plate with one out. He fell behind, 0-2, to Lincecum. He worked his way into a full count before lacing a two-run single to right.
Cole's pitch count dropped after the second. He needed only a total of 14 pitches for the third and fourth innings, retiring the side in order each time.
"I actually think after he ran the bases, it probably got his adrenaline to a very competitive and good place," Hurdle said. "I think he was amped up, he was ready to go."
The Pirates offense backed Cole. Starling Marte lined a pitch to left for his sixth homer this season in the sixth. Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer in the seventh.
Lincecum left after 4 2/3 innings and allowed four runs, two earned, on seven hits. He walked two and struck out four.
Cole retired 13 in a row until the seventh, when he allowed two singles to start the inning. A pinch-hit double by Tony Abreu knocked Cole out of the game, to a standing ovation and another chorus of cheers.
"I was trying not to look up, because I felt like I was going to smile," he said.mobilehome - breaking - pirates
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 12, 2013 2:30 AM