Much like the franchise’s 20-year losing streak itself, it look a little longer than expected for the Pittsburgh Pirates to get win No. 82.
Nevertheless, after two decades of below-average baseball, the Pirates have finally grown into winners.
Gerrit Cole threw seven brilliant innings and Pedro Alvarez drove in the game’s only run, pushing the Pirates to a taut 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers on Monday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. The win not only put the infamous Streak to bed, but also prevented Pittsburgh from losing five games in a row for the first time all season.
After Marlon Byrd and Alvarez stroked consecutive two-out doubles in the top of the seventh against Yu Darvish, arguably the best pitcher in the American League, Cole closed out the finest start of his rookie season with another shutout frame. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon fired the final two innings for the Pirates (82-61), who moved within one game of the idle Cardinals for first place in the NL Central.
If the one-run margin didn’t create enough tension, the ninth inning added another measure. Andrew McCutchen drilled a one-out triple to right field against reliever Neal Cotts, but he was thrown out at the plate on Justin Morneau’s grounder to Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was in on the grass.
In the bottom half, Melancon retired Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios before Adrian Beltre pulled a single through the left side to put the tying run on base. However, A.J. Pierzynski bounced weakly to second baseman Neil Walker, and the Pittsburgh-raised 27-year-old appropriately tossed to first to officially give the Steel City its first winning baseball team since 1992.
Walker was a first-round pick out of Pine-Richland High School in 2004, making him the longest-tenured member of the Pirates organization. McCutchen arrived in 2005, but a pair of more recent first-rounders in Alvarez (2008) and Cole (2011) delivered the biggest moments in a night.
Cole was as overpowering as he’s been since making his MLB debut in June. The 22-year-old righthander struck out a career-high nine and allowed only three hits, none for extra bases. Cole ran into his toughest “jam” in the sixth, when back-to-back walks to Andrus and Rios led to runners at second and third with two outs. With the crowd of 33,000-plus getting loud in a scoreless game, Cole induced Beltre to ground out to escape the frame.
Byrd, who has been a revelation at the plate since coming over in a trade with the Mets two weeks ago, goosed the Pirates offense in the seventh with a double that skidded just inside the left-field line. Alvarez then battled Darvish to a 2-2 count before slicing a sinking fastball into the left-center gap to give Pittsburgh a lead for the first time since last Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Darvish, who leads the majors in strikeouts and swing-and-miss rate, left the game after seven innings and 81 pitches because of leg cramping. Darvish was in full control for much of the night, striking out six Pirates and limiting them to singles by McCutchen (first inning) and Jose Tabata (sixth).
Despite the missed scoring chance in the ninth, the Bucs won for the first time in seven all-time games in Texas, as Melancon finished what Cole started for his 12th save of the season. The shutout win, the team’s 16th of the season, was a throwback to the springtime, when pitching carried the Pirates. It was also the fifth time Pittsburgh has won by a 1-0 score.
The Rangers (81-62) barely got a sniff against Cole and Co., advancing a runner to second just twice. Like Pittsburgh, Texas still holds the AL’s top wild-card spot, but the Rangers dropped two games behind Oakland for first in the West.
Pirates ace Francisco Liriano will try to start a winning streak Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Eastern, while the Rangers will send Martin Perez to the mound.