The Pirates have had a number of cathartic break-out-of-the-slump wins in this roller coaster of a season, but I think that maybe this one takes the cake as the most cathartic of them all. After an ugly three-game losing streak where the Pirates' offense just kind of ceased to exist for half of a week, the Bucs battered the Padres all over the park today. This is going to sound crazy, but it's the Pirates' first win by more than two runs since Labor Day, when they beat the Brewers 5-2. More or less everyone hit today, and it was nice to see just as an affirmation that the Pirates can, in fact, still hit the ball like this from time to time.
Of course, in the end the offense isn't even the story because Gerrit Cole's maturation into an unhittable flame-throwing ace took another step forward today. I was walking around Chapel Hill with my parents this afternoon, and when my dad and I saw Cole's final line all we could do was shake our heads and laugh. Cole breezed through six innings, allowing one run on four hits and three walks, and he struck out 12 hitters with a dazzling array of fastballs and sinkers and sliders and changeups. Cole got 14 swinging strikes today in his 97 pitches, which is a pretty far cry from the guy that showed up in June leaning on his fastball and hoping his defense could make plays behind him. His last three starts have all come after Pirate losses (on September 9th after a four-game losing streak, on September 14th after a loss to the Cubs, and this afternoon after a three game losing streak). In those three starts, Cole's pitched 20 innings and only allowed two runs on 12 hits. He's walked eight hitters, and he's struck out 28. For most of the year, you got a different impression from watching Cole pitch than the box scores gave of his performance. Now he's blown the doors off of the opposition in three straight starts that have all come at junctures in which the Pirates needed big starts. It's just awesome to watch. I'm practically babbling just talking about him.
The best news of all, though, is that in addition to the Pirates' win, the Cardinals lost in 15 innings to the Rockies with their bullpen giving up leads in the eighth and ninth innings. The Pirates' deficit is down to one game with nine left on the schedule. I'm not sure why, but that sounds infinitely more manageable than down by two with ten games left. This is not over yet.