It is the time of the season when rookie pitchers are fading or even being shut down for the year. Yet Gerrit Cole seems to be just getting started.
Cole pitched seven strong innings and got home run help from Marlon Byrd and Jose Tabata, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates past the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, Saturday night.
The Pirates have won five of six and moved into a first-place tie in the NL Central with St. Louis, which lost to Seattle 4-1.
Cole (8-7) gave up one run and five hits. The rookie struck out seven and walked three.
The 23-year-old Cole has been outstanding in his last six starts, going 3-2 with a 2.29 ERA with 35 strikeouts and nine walks. He won for just the second time in his last eight home starts.
”I don’t really have any answer,” Cole said about staying strong into mid-September. ”I’m just staying with my routine and chucking it as long as I can every time I get the ball.”
Cole, the first overall pick in the 2011 draft from UCLA, has pitched 173 1/3 innings between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates have built in extra rest between starts whenever possible, and that plan seems to be paying off.
”You never know where surprises are going to come from,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ”You didn’t know where he was going to be able to take you this season but his actions are speaking loud and clear.”
Tony Watson pitched the eighth and Mark Melancon worked the ninth to finish off the five-hitter and earn his 15th save in 17 chances.
Byrd hit a solo home run off James Russell (1-6) in the seventh to put Pittsburgh ahead 2-1.
It was Byrd’s 23rd home run of the season and second in 17 games since being acquired Aug. 27 from the New York Mets in a trade. He is hitting .323 for the Pirates.
Byrd has never been to the postseason in his 12-year career.
”It’s a blast,” Byrd said. ”To come here where we’re selling games out, the whole town is excited, you have the whole thing of wiping out the streak of 20 (consecutive) losing seasons – it’s just been amazing experience so far. What will be more amazing, though, is playing in October.”
The Pirates, looking for their first postseason berth since 1992, got a tying home from Tabata in the sixth. Pittsburgh maintained a 2 1/2-game lead over Cincinnati in the NL wild-card race.
Chicago got its run on Nate Schierholtz’s RBI double to right-center in the first inning. Anthony Rizzo also tried to score on the hit from first base, but was thrown out on a strong relay from Byrd to second baseman Neil Walker to the plate.
”That whole play was perfectly executed,” Cole said.
Scott Baker pitched well again in his second start with the Cubs since recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, allowing one run and three hits in six innings with four strikeouts and no walks.
Last Sunday, in his first major league outing since Sept. 22, 2011, with Minnesota, Baker pitched five scoreless innings against Milwaukee.
”He threw the ball well again,” Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. ”His velocity was a tad better this time and he has that live fastball that really moves. There’s still something there, that’s for sure. He’s done a good job.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez will not pitch again this season because of continuing pain in his left arm. Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since June 6 with forearm tightness, continued to feel pain Saturday, two days after pitching a five-inning simulated game. … Pirates LF Starling Marte had six plate appearances Saturday in a simulated game, facing LHP Kris Johnson. Though Marte continues to feel pain in his bruised right hand, the Pirates are hopeful he may be able to return to the lineup as soon as Monday. … OF Brian Bogusevic started in left field for Chicago in place of OF Junior Lake for the third time in four games. Bogusevic entered the day hitting .357 with three home runs in nine September games. … The four-game series concludes Sunday with Cubs LHP Travis Wood (9-11, 3.05) facing Pittsburgh LHP Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.92).