Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning. File photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle would not commit to saying this was the best game Pittsburgh right-hander Gerrit Cole has pitched. Neither did Cole. But if not, it was close.
The Cubs scored an unearned run in the second inning, and the Pirates wasted a brilliant performance by Cole in a 1-0 loss on Tuesday at PNC Park.
Cole, who muddled through an injury-marred 2016 season, pitched seven innings, yielding two hits and striking out eight with no walks.
"It was one of the best-pitched games he's had," Hurdle said. "He threw 22 out of 24 first-pitch strikes, which is crazy good. He had every pitch working, he was athletic on the mound, there was finish, there was power, there was spin. All four pitches worked."
Throwing 97 mph fastballs out of the gate, plus a curveball, slider and even a knuckle-curve, Cole set the tone in the first inning by striking out Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo on six pitches.
"It's probably the sharpest I've been this year," said Cole, a 19-game winner and All-Star in 2015.
He attributed his success to "just quality pitches and an aggressive club that's been swinging the bat well."
Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (2-1), while not as dazzling as Cole, was effective enough, holding the Pirates scoreless over six innings. He gave up four hits, walked two and struck out three.
Koji Uehara, Hector Rondon and Wade Davis completed the shutout with an inning each of shutout relief. Davis recorded his fifth save.
Hendricks was brilliant in 2016 but came into the game with a 6.19 ERA in three starts this year.
"I was closer (to last season) It's just one start," he said. "Definitely a lot better. I got away with some pitches early but the second time through the order, start of the third inning, something clicked a lot better. My fastball command got better. I could mix it up, in and out, up and down a little better. My changeup kind of followed. My curveball was much better. Willie (catcher Willson Contreras) kept me on track all night. We'll take it, one step."
On Monday, the Cubs tattooed Pirates pitching for 14 runs and 17 hits.
Although no one could know it at the time, the game was decided in the second inning Tuesday.
Cole fanned Ben Zobrist leading off the second, but Addison Russell banged a double off the wall in right center field. Jason Heyward grounded to second baseman Alen Hanson, who threw the ball away, allowing Russell to score.
Hanson through a translator said he was too relaxed because Heyward "wasn't running 100 percent.
Cole retired 13 straight after Hanson's error until Bryant's infield single with two outs in the sixth. Bryant stole second, but Rizzo grounded weakly to Cole.
With Hendricks out of the game, John Jaso greeted Uehara with a double starting the seventh. Mercer's long fly ball to left sent Jaso to third, but Hanson struck out and Jose Osuna, hitting for Cole, flied out.
Several balls were struck well by the Pirates, including three long fly outs in the ninth, but nothing came of them.
"There's gonna be ups and downs throughout the whole year," Cole said. "You can't get frustrated."
NOTES: Visiting PNC Park, commissioner Rob Manfred refused to confirm reports that a group led by Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter had reached a deal to buy the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria. "There are multiple groups that had made bids for the club, and when we have a resolution as to which bid is gonna be accepted, we'll announce that publicly. Until that happens, it's just not appropriate for me to comment further." ... Asked about baseball's drug program in the wake of Pittsburgh OF Starling Marte's 80-game suspension, Manfred said in terms of "testing" and investigation," MLB is "the best anywhere." ... 3B David Freese, the Pirates' top hitter (.321) did not play because of a right hamstring soreness. ... The Pirates recalled RHP Johnny Barbato from Triple-A Indianapolis and placed LHP Antonio Bastardo (strained left quadriceps) on the 10-day disabled list.