Walk-off victory caps Cole’s return to Pirates rotation

The Pirates got a walk-off sacrifice fly from Gaby Sanchez Wednesday night at PNC Park to snap a seven-game losing streak with a 3-2 win in a game in which their young ace returned to the mound.

Gerrit Cole was a sight for sore eyes in his return from a lengthy stint on the disabled list, inspiring the Pirates in a late comeback.

The Atlanta Braves got runs in the first and sixth innings, but the Pirates tied the score on a groundout and wild pitch in the eighth after chasing left-hander Alex Wood.

The winning rally began when Jordy Mercer singled to open the ninth and advanced to third as Starling Marte reached second on an error by left fielder Justin Upton.

Then, Sanchez drove a first-pitch fastball off David Carpenter deep to center field to score Mercer.

“For us it was just keep pushing forward, keep pushing forward,” Sanchez said. “We knew we were going to get our chance again. The guys we have in the lineup … we all trust one another and were able to come back. In that situation, just looking to get a pitch to do what I did, stay up the middle.”

The Pirates (65-62) managed just three hits off Wood through seven innings, but he might have stayed in the game one batter too long. Wood walked Sanchez to open the eighth then allowed a blazing ground-rule double down the line to Travis Snider. That put two in scoring position and chased Wood, who was replaced by Jordan Walden.

Chris Stewart’s groundout scored Sanchez and then Snider scored on a wild pitch with Neil Walker, off the bench pinch-hitting for Jayson Nix, at the plate.

Cole’s start was very encouraging. He completed seven innings, threw 97 pitches and his velocity was steady. He gave up two runs on five hits, four walks (one intentional) and struck out six.

“I thought he pitched really well. He used all his pitches efficiently,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The fastball — two-seam and four-seam — to both sides of the plate. The slider and curveball had different angles to them … and the changeup played. Had four pitches to go to, very efficient work. Really good to see him out on the mound.”

Cole was making his first start at PNC Park since July 4, after a lengthy stint on the disabled list for a sore right latissimus dorsi muscle.

He walked leadoff batter Jason Heyward, who later scored on a single, but hit a groove after that, retiring 12 in a row until Heyward’s leadoff double in the sixth.

Cole left the game trailing, 2-0, after seven innings, before the Pirates rallied.

“A little shaky in the first with the location, but started to get better as the game went on,” Cole said. “We were able to put our foot down when we needed to.”

Cole walked Heyward in five pitches, but struck out No. 2 hitter Andrelton Simmons on three pitches. Justin Upton drove a single up the middle with two on, scoring Heyward, but Cole got a double-play ball from Chris Johnson to end the first.

Josh Harrison smacked a first-pitch leadoff double in the bottom of the first, but Wood picked him off second. Harrison was initially called safe, but the call was overturned after a Braves challenged.

Cole gave up a leadoff double to catcher Evan Gattis in the second, but found his groove and retired the next 12 batters. The Braves plated their other run on Heyward’s leadoff double in the sixth and Johnson’s single to right with the bases load.

Freedie Freeman also attempted to score on the play, but was thrown out at home by Snider. The Braves challenged that play, too, but lost..

The Pirates are off today, then head to Milwaukee to face the National League Central Division-leading Brewers.

It’s the start of a potentially season-defining stretch for the Pirates, who will play 15 games against exclusively NL Central opponents starting Friday through Sept. 7.

The Pirates are six games back from the Brewers in the division, and two games back in the wild-card race.

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter@JennMenendez.

Jenn Menendez jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez First Published August 20, 2014 10:02 PM

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