Through the first six innings, the 26-year-old kept the Nationals off balance and off the board, retiring six of the first seven batters he faced, then nine straight after giving up the first hit of the game in the third.
Daniel Murphy singled and scored on an RBI double by Brian Goodwin in the top of the seventh, but Goodwin was picked off second base to end the inning with the Bucs still up, 3-1.
Cole finished the night at 98 pitches, giving up three hits, two walks and the one run in seven innings.
“He was throwing strike one,” Dusty Baker said after the Nationals’ 6-1 loss in PNC Park. “Keeping the ball down, mixing up his breaking ball, fastball, changeup.
“He had everything working tonight and it was in the fifth or sixth inning before we knew kind of what happened.”
“He followed his game plan extremely well,” Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle told reporters after Cole and the Pirates evened things up in the three-game set with the Nationals.
“The game plan set up before the game was to work efficiently, first-pitch strikes and create weak contact,” Hurdle said. “Textbook, followed from start to finish.”
“He used all four pitches again tonight, the fastball command set everything up and he threw 20 out of 25 first-pitch strikes.”
Jacob Turner matched Cole through five scoreless, but a leadoff walk, force at second on a grounder and HBP left two men on in front of Pirates’ first baseman Josh Bell, who hit a 3-1 fastball out to right for a three-run home run that put the Bucs up, 3-0.
A walk to Francisco Cervelli in the at bat that followed ended Turner’s night.
Over 5 1⁄3 innings, the Nationals’ 25-year-old righty held the Pirates to three runs on four hits and four walks, inducing 12 ground ball outs from the 24 batters he faced.
“Turner was matching him,” Baker said, “... and then the walk, hit batsmen and then the home run. He might have tired but we really couldn’t get anybody loose quick enough in that inning. He was dealing too. Turner deserved better.”
Strong as he looked in the first five innings, Turner told reporters he felt like he was fighting it the whole way.
“Really just battling, trying to find something that would work,” he said. “Keeping the ball on the ground. The defense was great behind me, got some quick outs, but really just trying to get a feel I felt like the whole game.”