We should’ve known the MLB debut of elite pitching prospect Gerrit Cole wasn’t going to be as spectacular as Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg’s thunderbolt of a first start three years ago. After all, Pittsburgh Pirates fans couldn’t even decide on a decent Twitter hashtag to commemorate the event.
While #MerryStrasmas was the refrain in June 2010 when Strasburg racked up 14 strikeouts against the Bucs in our nation’s capital, #ColeTrain was probably the best of a sad bunch of hashtags in the prelude to Cole’s two-K performance Tuesday night at PNC Park.
(This proudly Polish writer is partial to #ColeSlaw, but I’ll admit the appeal is limited.)
Cole, the Pirates’ 2011 draft prize for losing 105 games the prior summer, didn’t spawn a meme when he pulled open the curtain on what should be a fruitful career in front of 30,000-plus on the North Shore. Nonetheless, what the 22-year-old Californian did do was give the contending Bucs a much-needed buzz-worthy moment in what they hope is a turnaround 2013 for the franchise.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that Travis Snider’s game-changing pinch-hit grand slam against the Cubs officially started baseball season in Pittsburgh, but that might’ve been premature. Cole’s moment represents more than a fast start for the local ballclub; it means promise in a department in which the Pirates have almost always lacked: dominant pitching.
Remarkably, the Bucs have never employed an all-time great pitcher in their century-plus of existence. The odds dictate Cole won’t be that, but he’s a flamethrower fans can dream on, and that’s just as important. If his first start is any indicator, the Pirates have a guy that folks will come out to see every fifth day, certainly a new frontier in Pittsburgh since Oliver Perez’ spectacular 2004 run.
Conveniently, the Penguins were knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs just before the Pirates announced Cole would be called up from Triple-A. For the next several weeks, the Pittsburgh sports stage belongs to the Bucs. With a record well above .500 and an interesting youngster to augment what’s been an impressive pitching staff, the time is now for the Pirates to demand the attention of the Tri-State Area.
For now, the Pirates’ creative band of followers has a few more days to come up with a better Cole-related hashtag. #Colearoo, anyone?