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Cole stays hot, helps Pirates keep up with NL Central race

CBSSports.com wire reports
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PITTSBURGH -- It is the time of the season when rookie pitchers are fading or even being shut down for the year. Yet Gerrit Cole seems to be just getting started.

Cole pitched seven strong innings and got home run help from Marlon Byrd and Jose Tabata, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates past the Chicago Cubs 2-1 Saturday night.

The Pirates have won five of six and moved into a first-place tie in the NL Central with St. Louis, which lost to Seattle 4-1.

Cole (8-7) gave up one run and five hits. The rookie struck out seven and walked three.

The 23-year-old Cole has been outstanding in his last six starts, going 3-2 with a 2.29 ERA with 35 strikeouts and nine walks. He won for just the second time in his last eight home starts.

"I don't really have any answer," Cole said about staying strong into mid-September. "I'm just staying with my routine and chucking it as long as I can every time I get the ball."

Cole, the first overall pick in the 2011 draft from UCLA, has pitched 173 1/3 innings between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates have built in extra rest between starts whenever possible, and that plan seems to be paying off.

"You never know where surprises are going to come from," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You didn't know where he was going to be able to take you this season but his actions are speaking loud and clear."

Tony Watson pitched the eighth and Mark Melancon worked the ninth to finish off the five-hitter and earn his 15th save in 17 chances.

Byrd hit a solo home run off James Russell (1-6) in the seventh to put Pittsburgh ahead 2-1.

It was Byrd's 23rd home run of the season and second in 17 games since being acquired Aug. 27 from the New York Mets in a trade. He is hitting .323 for the Pirates.

Byrd has never been to the postseason in his 12-year career.

"It's a blast," Byrd said. "To come here where we're selling games out, the whole town is excited, you have the whole thing of wiping out the streak of 20 (consecutive) losing seasons -- it's just been amazing experience so far. What will be more amazing, though, is playing in October."

The Pirates, looking for their first postseason berth since 1992, got a tying home from Tabata in the sixth. Pittsburgh maintained a 2-game lead over Cincinnati in the NL wild-card race.

Chicago got its run on Nate Schierholtz's RBI double to right-center in the first inning. Anthony Rizzo also tried to score on the hit from first base, but was thrown out on a strong relay from Byrd to second baseman Neil Walker to the plate.

"That whole play was perfectly executed," Cole said.

Scott Baker pitched well again in his second start with the Cubs since recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, allowing one run and three hits in six innings with four strikeouts and no walks.

Last Sunday, in his first major league outing since Sept. 22, 2011, with Minnesota, Baker pitched five scoreless innings against Milwaukee.

"He threw the ball well again," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. "His velocity was a tad better this time and he has that live fastball that really moves. There's still something there, that's for sure. He's done a good job."

Notes

Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez will not pitch again this season because of continuing pain in his left arm. Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since June 6 with forearm tightness, continued to feel pain Saturday, two days after pitching a five-inning simulated game. ... Pirates LF Starling Marte had six plate appearances Saturday in a simulated game, facing LHP Kris Johnson. Though Marte continues to feel pain in his bruised right hand, the Pirates are hopeful he may be able to return to the lineup as soon as Monday. ... OF Brian Bogusevic started in left field for Chicago in place of OF Junior Lake for the third time in four games. Bogusevic entered the day hitting .357 with three home runs in nine September games. ... The four-game series concludes Sunday with Cubs LHP Travis Wood (9-11, 3.05) facing Pittsburgh LHP Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.92).

 
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Gerrit Cole has posted a 2.29 ERA over his past six starts as the Pirates battle for their first playoff appearance since 1992. (USATSI)
Gerrit Cole has posted a 2.29 ERA over his past six starts as the Pirates battle for their first playoff appearance since 1992. (USATSI)

Players of the Game
Pittsburgh

G. Cole
IP 7.0
H 5
ER 1
BB 3
K 7
Chicago

S. Baker
IP 6.0
H 3
ER 1
BB 0
K 4
 
Chicago (N.L.) Cubs
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Starlin Castro, SS3110112 .241
Luis Valbuena, 3B3000013 .223
   a-Donnie Murphy, PH-3B1000000 .265
Anthony Rizzo, 1B3010110 .230
Nate Schierholtz, RF4011011 .253
Ryan Sweeney, CF4000002 .272
Brian Bogusevic, LF3000121 .284
Welington Castillo, C4010001 .271
Darwin Barney, 2B2010000 .213
Scott Baker, P2000011 .000
   b-Dioner Navarro, PH1000012 .303
   James Russell, P0000000 .000
   Carlos Villanueva, P0000000 .161
   Zac Rosscup, P0000000 .000
   Blake Parker, P0000000 .000
Totals3015138  
a-grounded out for Valbuena in the 8th
b-struck out for Baker in the 7th
Batting
2B - Anthony Rizzo (36, Cole), Nate Schierholtz (29, Cole)
SH - Darwin Barney (4)
RBI - Nate Schierholtz (65)
Team LOB - 6
Chicago (N.L.) Cubs
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Scott Baker 6311041 0.82
James Russell (L,1-6) 0.2111001 3.63
Carlos Villanueva 0.2000110 4.20
Zac Rosscup 0.1100000 0.00
Blake Parker 0.1000000 2.83
Pitches-Strikes - Scott Baker 75-54, James Russell 9-7, Carlos Villanueva 12-7, Zac Rosscup 5-3, Blake Parker 2-2
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Scott Baker 2-12, James Russell 1-1, Carlos Villanueva 1-0, Blake Parker 1-0
Batters Faced - Scott Baker 21, James Russell 3, Carlos Villanueva 3, Zac Rosscup 2, Blake Parker 1
Pittsburgh Pirates
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Jose Tabata, LF3111001 .273
   Tony Watson, P0000000 .000
   a-Garrett Jones, PH0000000 .238
   b-Gaby Sanchez, PH1000001 .252
   Mark Melancon, P0000000 .000
Neil Walker, 2B4010001 .252
Andrew McCutchen, CF4000022 .325
Justin Morneau, 1B3010000 .259
Marlon Byrd, RF3111011 .290
Pedro Alvarez, 3B3000011 .233
Russell Martin, C3000011 .233
Jordy Mercer, SS3000000 .277
Gerrit Cole, P2010000 .207
   Felix Pie, LF0000000 .174
   c-Travis Snider, PH0000100 .221
   Starling Marte, PR-LF0000000 .282
Totals2925215  
a-announced for Watson in the 8th
b-flied out for G. Jones in the 8th
c-walked for Pie in the 8th
Batting
HR - Jose Tabata (5, Baker), Marlon Byrd (23, Russell)
RBI - Jose Tabata (27), Marlon Byrd (81)
Team LOB - 4
Fielding
Outfield Assists - Marlon Byrd 1
DP - Mercer-Walker-Morneau
Pittsburgh Pirates
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Gerrit Cole (W,8-7) 7511370 3.33
Tony Watson (H,21) 1000000 2.48
Mark Melancon (S,15) 1000010 1.09
WP - Mark Melancon (5)
Pitches-Strikes - Gerrit Cole 101-61, Tony Watson 7-5, Mark Melancon 8-7
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Gerrit Cole 5-8, Tony Watson 2-1, Mark Melancon 2-0
Batters Faced - Gerrit Cole 28, Tony Watson 3, Mark Melancon 3
Game Information
Attendance - 37534
Game Time - 2:33
Temperature - 64
Umpires - Home - Dana DeMuth, First Base - Mike Estabrook, Second Base - Paul Nauert, Third Base - Doug Eddings