On ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent a message that they are absolutely for real in a 7-1 win over the Cardinals. Even though the Pirates still sit 5.5 games back of the Cards in the Central, they continue to prove that they can go head-to-head with them and will be a dangerous team in the postseason if they can get past the Wild Card Game. The two teams are now 8-8 against each other this season, and the Pirates outscored the Cardinals 17-8 in this three-game series.
Gerrit Cole took the mound for the Pirates in the national spotlight, and proceeded to return to the dominant form he had for much of this season. Cole tossed seven innings of shutout ball, striking out seven and allowing just two weak hits. Cole was coming off a few rough starts, and rebounded tremendously. He had a no-hitter going until the bottom of the 5th inning, and his ERA dropped to 2.54 after the contest.
But it was the Pirate bats that had as much to do with the win as Cole’s outing. Neil Walker finally broke through against John Lackey in the fourth inning with an RBI single that would score Gregory Polanco. The score would stay 1-0 in a pitcher’s duel until the seventh inning when Cole, of all players, would come through with an RBI single, scoring Sean Rodriguez and adding some insurance to the Pirates’ lead.
Lackey would continue to pitch into the eighth, which may have been a bad decision, as Aramis Ramirez smacked a solo shot off of him, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead. That would be all for Lackey, and Cole wouldn’t come out for the 8th. The Pirates’ would add two two-run home runs off the bats off Rodriguez and Starling Marte, giving the Pirates a 7-0 lead heading into the final inning.
The Cardinals would manage to avoid the shutout by driving in a run against Joakim Soria, but the Pirates would hold on to win a big game by a final score of 7-1.
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What Stood Out
Cole was coming off arguably his worst start of the season when he allowed five earned runs in just four innings against the Brewers. He returned to the form we saw in the two starts before that, in which he allowed just one run across 14.1 innings pitched. A dominant Cole will be hugely important in a potential Wild Card game.
Gregory Polanco and Marte both had multi-hit games, but Rodriguez is the player that really stood out. He added a pinch-hit two-run home run in this contest, coming off a game in which he went 3-4. A productive Rodriguez off the bench will be nice to have down the stretch.
The Pirates play the Cardinals three more times, and they have played one less game than them on the season. These are four games that the Pirates control. If they win all four of these (obviously a big “if”), they will sit only two games back in the division. Looking at the division chase like this makes catching the Cardinals seem more reasonable.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (81-54) have to go on short rest as they travel from St. Louis to Cincinnati to begin a three-game series against the Reds (56-79). The Labor Day contest will feature Jeff Locke (7-9. 4.66 ERA) in what may be his last start as a Pirate with A.J. Burnett‘s looming return against Anthony DeSclafini (7-10, 3.87 ERA) for the Reds. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 PM.