SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER - Four days after Gerrit Cole extinguished two candles on his second birthday cake — Sept. 8, 1992 — was the last time the Pirates reached 82 wins.
Twenty-one years later, one day after Cole turned 23, you saw a player with only three months of experience with The Streak help extinguish it.
For those who watched, you saw history.
Many of you, like Jordan White, celebrated.
— Jordan White (@JWhite1025) September 10, 2013
Reaching 82 is significant milestone. I don’t need to tell all you that have lived through 20 years of losing that. You lived through Ron Villone as a opening day starter, the Aramis Ramirez trade, and the decision to drafty Bryan Bullington 1st overall.
I understand the emotional release.
But something else about last night was more important for 2013 on-the-field events moving forward.
That something? It’s the continued emergence of Cole.
We’ve heard much about Cole’s lacking strikeout rate even dating back to his time at UCLA. Well, that strikeout rate is improving;
Cole’s first-half strikeout rate: 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings
Cole’s second-half strikeout rate: 7.9 strikeouts per nine
In perhaps the most important start of his career, with veteran starting pitchers having struggled in recent starts, Cole had the best outing of his career. He was simply dominant. He had easy 96-99 mph heat and command of the fastball. Most important he had both a swing-and-miss slider and changeup.
The biggest development for the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is the slider is starting to play more.
Cole struck out five batters swinging on his slider, which had excellent late action Monday. Cole also struck out another with a 91 changeup that had excellent fading action. Simply unfair.
It was the best raw stuff Cole has had since his June start in Anaheim when he was amped up to be pitching in front of family and friends.
While bouncing around like the NASDAQ market, Cole’s slider has generally trended upward. He didn’t even throw it in his first several starts as a major leaguer. When he begins to harness it more consistently like he did Monday, he will have the makings of a front-of-the-rotation starter.
And don’t forget about Cole’s fourth and sixth innings at Milwaukee last week. Remember it went something like this: Cole struck out Jean Segura swinging on a slider that dived out of the zone — the same fate awaited Aramis Ramirez, who swung through an 84 mph curve. In the sixth inning, Cole painted the corner with a 98 mph fastball to strike Ramirez. Carlos Gomez followed by swinging and missing at another 98 mph fastball.
He’s improving … in the middle of a postseason chase.
It’s smart of the Pirates not to make his innings limit public this season, because that red line might need to be revised if the Pirates find themselves in a playoff series. If Cole keeps pitching this, he won’t be a bullpen option in October, he will be a starting option.
And the other thing I think you have to love about Cole is the mental makeup.
This was a guy who was not overwhelmed by the major league stage in his debut. In the most important start of his college career, he struck out 13 TCU batters in eight innings in Omaha. And in his most important start as a major leaguer on Monday, with the Pirates desperately needing a win and matched up against Yu Darvish, he was at his best. That says a lot. Aces have to have that kind of makeup.
Cole not only helped break The Streak. He gave Pittsburgh a glimpse of what he can be on Monday night: a legit ace.