Gerrit Cole commanded such a crowd in Pittsburgh tonight that the Pirates brought in extra security.
And while the latecomers among the 30,614 in attendance were straggling into the gates, the outline of their bodies being traced by a waving metal detector, Cole was inside PNC Park making the first big-league batter he faced look just like those security guards.
Gregor Blanco struck out on Cole’s first three pitches in the majors, flailing at a 99 mph fastball straight down the heart of the plate.
Cole continued pounding the strike zone throughout the rest of the game. He threw 81 pitches, 59 of which were strikes (72.8 percent), and was consistently sitting at 95-97 mph. Though he struck out just two batters, he walked none and was extremely efficient during a streak of 13 straight retired batters. In total, the rookie went 6 1/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on seven hits — earning the win in Pittsburgh’s 8-2 triumph over the reigning World Series champs.
His fastball was explosive, as indicated by the radar readings, and catcher Russell Martin said in his post-game interview on TV that Cole has the best fastball he’s ever caught.
Such praise has to be taken with a grain of salt since Martin was essentially coaxed into saying as much, but it’s notable to consider the catcher has been teammates with Clayton Kershaw and C.C. Sabathia.
But the biggest surprise — other than perhaps Martin’s comment — came when the 22-year-old Pirates’ hurler stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second.
Cole smoked a line drive to left-center field and nearly split the two outfielders, scoring the Pirates’ first two runs. His Zoltan signal needs a little work, particularly in separating the hands a bit more, but I have no qualms about that hitting approach. Cole actually had a chance to go 2-for-3 if not 3-for-3, since he grounded one back up the middle to Tim Lincecum and lined another ball to center, though this one was snagged.
It really was an electric night, just watching the game on TV.
Pedro Alvarez went 3-for-3 with a towering homer to left-center and collected three RBI on the night. He also made a couple nice defensive plays at third, including a quick pick and throw to get Joaquin Arias at first — prompting Cole to pump his fist and pat Alvarez on the back.
Starling Marte also homered, which is his sixth tater on the season, and stole a base.
This type of night is exactly what the Pirates needed having lost six of nine games coming into Tuesday. Cole certainly has the potential to provide that boost — both to the team and the crowd — throughout the remainder of the season and it’ll be fascinating to see if he’ll be able to do so after adjusting.
By that I mean, he won’t be able to thrive with low strikeout totals and nor will his defense be able to pick him up for every start. So something’s probably going to have to change, and the most probable thing is for the strikeout rate to climb.
But for now, Cole and the Pirates will be the talk of the town and for all the right reasons, too.
It’s funny that this debut needed increased security; if he continues pitching like he did tonight, Gerrit Cole will be the one providing security to a rotation — and ball club — that needed some patching and a pickup.