Cole cools Tigers, then rally falls short
Pittsburgh — National League park, National League rules, and the Tigers had a National League weapon ready and waiting on the bench.
But it never got launched.
Pirates ace Gerrit Cole threw a big, damp blanket over the Tigers' white-hot offense for six innings and two late-inning rallies were snuffed — one with Victor Martinez still on the bench, and the other right before he made the last out of the game — allowing the Pirates to escape with a 5-4 win on Opening Day at PNC Park.
"We had it right where you'd want it against the back end of their bullpen," manager Brad Ausmus said. "We had our 2-3-4 hitters coming up, all the way down to Victor. We had as good a chance as possible being down four runs in the last inning."
Cole apparently hadn't seen the stat sheet. He was completely undaunted by the Tigers' gaudy offensive numbers — the 47 runs, .355 team batting average and .550 team slugging percentage or that they had just banged out 43 hits in three games in Cleveland.
Unfazed. He allowed a single and a walk while striking out eight over six innings.
"He was throwing cheese," catcher Alex Avila said. "It was 97-98 mph on his fastball. He threw a couple of different breaking balls and a change-up. He was spotting up and sinking the ball. He was lights out."
But then came the seventh.
Miguel Cabrera, named the American League Player of the Week on Monday, somehow managed to rap an 0-2 pitch — a hard, 95-mph sinker — past the first baseman for the second hit off Cole. J.D. Martinez worked a walk and Yoenis Cespedes, who was hitless in the previous 10 at-bats, dumped a two-strike single into short center.
Cole left at that point, to a well-earned standing ovation, and right-hander Jared Hughes came on.
Ausmus could have elected to use Victor Martinez right there, to pinch hit for Nick Castellanos, who had swung the bat well against Cole.
"I thought about it," he said. "But my gut told me we'd have a chance later in the game and I didn't want to be caught short where we wouldn't be able to run or pinch hit for the pitcher's spot.
"I thought Victor would have a chance later and he did."
Castellanos swung at the first pitch from Hughes and hit into a double play. A run scored, cutting the deficit to 2-1, but the rally was dead.
"If we would have got past Alex (Avila who made the last out of the seventh), we could have pinch-hit for Jose Iglesias or the pitcher," Ausmus said.
The missed opportunity was compounded in the bottom of the seventh when the Pirates tacked on three runs, a solo home run by Pedro Alvarez and a two-run shot by pinch-hitter Corey Hart.
Josh Harrison had hit the first pitch of the game over the left-centerfield fence for a home run, too. Sanchez allowed four homers all of last season and three on Monday.
"It's frustrating to pitch a good six innings and have that happen in the seventh," said Sanchez, who struck out nine. "I tried to get ahead in the count with Alvarez and he jumps on the first pitch. Hits a home run and everything changes."
Hart also jumped on the first pitch and both homer were hanging breaking balls.
"He threw very well today except two bad pitches," Avila said. "But that's what happens. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't."
Down 5-1, the Tigers bruised Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the ninth, but they didn't beat him.
Ian Kinsler and Cabrera started the inning with back-to-back doubles. J.D. Martinez followed with a two-run homer to right. Cespedes then hit a single and suddenly it's 5-4, the tying run on first and no outs — and Victor Martinez is looming.
Once again, Ausmus considered sending him up for Castellanos right then.
"The only thing that kills you there is a double play," Ausmus said. "But Victor would still have a chance to tie the game. I decided to let Nick hit. Nick is a darn good hitter and he took some good swings today.
"He deserved an opportunity to hit."
Castellanos again hit into a double play. The best Martinez could do, as he batted for Avila, was tie the game. Melancon struck him out.
Thus ending the Tigers' six-game win streak.
"We are seven games in," Avila said. "We're not going to go 162-0. So scratch that. We'll go get them tomorrow."