When the Marlins scored two runs off of Gerrit Cole in the top of the first inning, my immediate thought was that the Pirates had to hope that Jose Fernandez wasn't going to pitch more than five or six innings this afternoon. I thought that was a reasonable hope; Fernandez is only 20, after all, and he threw 108 pitches in his 14-strikeout domination of the Indians over the weekend.
Fernandez looked awfully good out of the gate this afternoon, but the Pirates worked some deep counts and drew some walks against him. They didn't have much to show for it early on, but they were racking the pitch count up. Gerrit Cole settled in and breezed through the second, third, and fourth innings after his rough first (he struck out three, gave up two hits, and only faced ten hitters thanks to a double play), and it looked like maybe the Pirates were going to somehow dig out of the hole early hole by chasing Fernandez early. Then Cole gave up a two-run homer to Christian Yelich (Yelich, who's only 20, was unbelievable in this series and the swing he put on a two-strike backdoor Gerrit Cole slider to hit it opposite field over the left-center fence was incredible).
That made it 4-0, and for a brief moment it seemed like maybe it was greedy to expect another comeback win over the Marlins after the Bucs fought back from 2-0 and 3-0 deficits in the first two games of the series. That thought flitted out almost as quickly as it came into existence. The Pirates scored twice off of Fernandez in the bottom of the fifth, when Starling Marte drew a walk, Alex Presley singled, and they were then singled in by Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. With lead cut in half and Fernandez out of the game, things looked very different.
And so, of course, they were. The Pirates loaded the bases up in the seventh inning with a walk and two hits off of Chad Qualls. With the bases loaded and no outs, the Pirates had to find a way to score two runs with Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez due up against lefty Mike Dunn, then either Garrett Jones against Dunn or Gaby Sanchez against a new, right-handed pitcher. They somehow navigated with a sac fly from Walker, a walk by Alvarez, and a sac fly from Sanchez. In the tenth, Russell Martin stepped up as the team's last player on the bench and singled into left field, scoring Josh Harrison from second. The bullpen was again spectacular; Jeanmar Gomez threw two innings of scoreless relief and was then followed by a nerve-wracking-but-scoreless-inning from Justin Wilson, a perfect inning by Mark Melancon, and a perfect inning by Jared Hughes.
If you can remember back to the morning of July 29th, the Pirates were 1 1/2 games out of first place and facing an 11-game homestand against the Cardinals, Rockies, and Marlins. At that point, the thinking was that if the Pirates could hold serve against the Cardinals, then take both the Rockies and Marlins series they could win six or seven games on the homestand and still be in the thick of the NL Central race when it ended. The Pirates went 9-2 on the homestand. They're 70-44, and they have a three-game lead on the Cardinals that's dependent on the Dodgers/Cardinals game tonight. That's one heck of a homestand.