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Cole takes loss after dominant start in stride

Right-hander fans 8, holds potent Cubs lineup to 2 hits over 7 strong frames
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- How good was Gerrit Cole on Tuesday night? Cole said he was the sharpest he's been this season. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said it "may have been one of the best-pitched games he's had." Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Cole "could not have pitched better."

But, somehow, it was not enough to win. The Pirates allowed a single unearned run on an error by rookie second baseman Alen Hanson, and they could not mount a sustained offensive attack. So Cole's seven-inning, two-hit effort went to waste as the Bucs lost, 1-0, at PNC Park.

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PITTSBURGH -- How good was Gerrit Cole on Tuesday night? Cole said he was the sharpest he's been this season. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said it "may have been one of the best-pitched games he's had." Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Cole "could not have pitched better."

But, somehow, it was not enough to win. The Pirates allowed a single unearned run on an error by rookie second baseman Alen Hanson, and they could not mount a sustained offensive attack. So Cole's seven-inning, two-hit effort went to waste as the Bucs lost, 1-0, at PNC Park.

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"It was pretty good. There's some areas for improvement," Cole said. "[I'll] just stick with the process and keep trying to get better and refine those things."

But by any standard, Cole was perhaps as dominant as he's ever been on a Major League mound. He struck out eight batters and didn't walk any, and he breezed through seven innings on 78 pitches.

He allowed two hits: a double and an infield single. At one point, he retired 13 straight Cubs. All this against the same lineup that put up 14 runs on 17 hits on Monday night.

Video: CHC@PIT: Hanson dives to his left for a great stop

Consider three numbers the Pirates use to evaluate starting pitching performances: first-pitch strikes, batters retired on three pitches or fewer and three-ball counts. Cole only got into two three-ball counts, both of them in the sixth inning against Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. He retired 14 hitters on three pitches or fewer and threw a first-pitch strike to 22 of the 24 hitters he faced.

"Which is crazy good," Hurdle said of the final number. "He had every pitch working. He was athletic on the mound. There was finish. There was power. There was spin. All four pitches worked.

"It was really solid, and that's a really good lineup over there. Nobody likes to lose -- the team, him. There's a lot of good to be picked from that."

Consider another number: Bill James' Game Score. Cole finished with a score of 83, tied for the best of his big league career. The two matching performances came last year: his 94-pitch complete game against the Mariners on July 27 and his eight-inning gem at Wrigley Field on May 15.

"You've got to give that guy credit," Maddon said. "I know he's good, and I've always said that, but I've not seen him that good."

Cole's four-seam fastball averaged 96.4 mph. He got at least one swing-and-miss and at least two called strikes on each of his three offspeed pitches. The Cubs' average exit velocity against him was 76.4 mph.

"Just quality pitches and an aggressive club," Cole said. "I feel like we had a reminder less than 24 hours ago of how deadly this offense can be."

Video: CHC@PIT: Russell scores on Hanson's throwing error

Yet the only rally the Cubs needed Tuesday came in the second inning, on their hardest-hit ball of the night and one of their weakest. Addison Russell hit a 105.6-mph double to center and scored on Jason Heyward's chopper, which Hanson fielded and threw well wide of first baseman Josh Bell.

The run was unearned. As was Cole's loss.

"It's not frustrating," Cole said. "Guys are putting good swings on the ball. … It's just the way this stuff goes sometimes. There's going to be ups and downs throughout the whole year. You can't get frustrated."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole