COMMENTARY | It's a rare thing in sports when professional debuts seemingly play out in fairytale fashion. Those feelings are magnified when talking about a fan base that hasn't had a whole lot to cheer about in the last 20 years. That changed Tuesday night when one of the most hyped prospects in recent franchise history arrived in big fashion and delivered a performance many won't soon forget.
Gerrit Cole didn't wait long to show Pirates Nation what he brings to the table. The first batter of the night, San Francisco leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco, looked silly on three straight fastballs from Cole that registered 96, 96 and 99 on the radar. The strikeout was an electrifying start that absolutely invigorated the 30,000 fans in attendance, a remarkable crowd for a Tuesday night.
From there, the outs just kept coming. Cole tossed 19 first pitch strikes to his opponents and at one point retired 13 straight batters. He took a shutout into the seventh inning and only surrendered a run after the Pirates had jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Overall, Cole allowed seven hits and two runs while striking out two and walking none in 6 1/3 innings. It was about as good of a debut as anyone could ask for, barring the fact that he didn't throw a complete game shutout or a no hitter. The Bucs won easily on the night by a score of 8-2, beating the defending World Series champions.
Cole's arm only provided one side of the story to his magical night. In the second inning, he stepped to the plate against former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum with the bases loaded. He delivered a two-run single, his first hit since playing in high school, in his very first at-bat in Major League Baseball. According to statistics shown on the postgame television broadcast, Cole became the first pitcher drafted No. 1 overall to get a hit or an RBI in his professional debut. A relatively unimportant stat for sure, but one that added to the unbelievable nature of the evening.
Even the postgame television commentators couldn't hide their excitement. Former Pirates pitcher Kent Tekulve, now an analyst with Root Sports, beamed with a smile and said that fans waited two long years for this debut. Play-by-play announcer Greg Brown took it a step further and said some fans have waited decades for a "homegrown ace" to arrive on scene and contribute at a high level.
Regardless of all the hype, it's important to remember that this was only the first in what fans hope are many starts for Cole. And it's not like everything was smooth sailing Tuesday night; Cole had to work out of a jam in the first inning as well as the second, when he hit Blanco with a pitch to load the bases. The grand scheme of things wasn't lost on manager Clint Hurdle, who preached caution after the game in reminding fans and the media that this was (hopefully) one small step in a much larger journey.
But the night still belonged to Cole, surely one he will never forget. And according to Brown, the television analyst, it's a night fans won't soon forget either.
"What a storybook night," he said after the game. "Pirates fans deserve this."
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
- Sports & Recreation
- Gerrit Cole