|(photo: Pittsburgh Pirates)|
Renee Zellwegger once said, in her most annoying, treacly voice, "You had me at Hello." (Excuse me while I retch for a moment. Okay, I'm back.)
By the time Gerrit Cole tossed his first pitch in the major leagues -- a 96 mph heater to San Fran left fielder Gregor Blanco -- he already had Pirates fans in the palm of his hand. (Or at least those who were in the ballpark for the momentous occasion of the debut of the club's most prized prospect. Super timing on busting out the new security measures, guys. Really, top notch. I know that I live in fear of terror loving terrorists from Cincinnati blowing up Pops Plaza.)
Cole wasn't dominant through his first two innings, but he was good. Really good. PNC Park was buzzing and it was all due to this kid.
By the time he came to bat in the bottom of the 2nd, nearly all of the 30,614 who came to see him were finally in the park, just in time for him to rip a one-out line drive single to right center, driving home two-runs. By that point, the Gerrit Cole fever reached a level that can only be described as full on delirium of a religious nature. With Cole on first base, and Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez across home plate, Pirates fans would have followed the 2011 overall No. 1 draft pick blindly to the ends of the earth like thousands of Unsullied following Daenerys Targaryen.
To be sure, Cole pitched well. He hit a dragon-fire like 99 on the radar gun a handful of times and I didn't see his fastball dip below 95 mph. Though batters were making contact -- Cole only had two strike outs on the night -- the contact wasn't usually of a very convincing nature. A dying quail here, a gork there, a ground ball with eyes elsewhere. Frankly, I thought it was a good sign. Rookie pitchers, particularly those with the pedigree and baggage of being the overall top pick, usually want to 'announce their presence with authority' in the words of the great Nuke Laloosh. But Cole didn't appear to be afraid of the contact, which to me is a sign of remarkable maturity. It is a mindset that could serve him well in his MLB career. The other great sign was that he didn't walk a single batter.
Through his 6 1/3 innings, Cole was awfully promising. Tantalizing, even. I'm excited to see his next start, but I'm not ready to start scheduling parades around here just yet -- Gerrit Cole is young and incomplete. And we've all seen guys like this flame out for any number of reasons. The job in front of the Pirates now is to keep him on track, on a trajectory for growth, without putting too much pressure on him. Amazingly enough, with Ray Searage coaching the hurlers, I actually trust him to shepherd this young guy safely through. Now, what are we going to do with 30,000 Unsullied?