ARLINGTON -- After losing their identity -- not to mention three discouragingly one-sided games -- in St. Louis, the Pirates were back to being themselves Monday night.
They played it tight. They pitched it brilliantly. They got the clutch hit. And they won it, 1-0, to rinse out the rancid taste of the Missouri weekend.
Hoist that Jolly Roger for the 82nd time, and proclaim the Bucs a winning ballclub, for the first time since 1992.
"That's as good of a Major League game as you're going to see, so it's a little added that it's the one that gets us to 82 [wins]," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Now we can, I think for everyone's best purpose, just focus on playing through, but I'm happy for everyone that this is really meaningful for. It has some meaning here."
The win moves the Pirates within a game of the idle first-place Cardinals in the National League Central and a game ahead of the Reds -- who lost to the Cubs -- for the top NL Wild Card spot.
Gerrit Cole yanked the Bucs back to their reality, dispensing his best game when it was most badly needed, blanking the Rangers for his first scoreless start of his young career. The rookie allowed just three hits through seven innings spiced with a career-high nine strikeouts. He became just the eighth opposing pitcher to win at Rangers Ballpark when throwing seven or more shutout innings with at least nine strikeouts.
"That guy was really good," Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "If he pitches like that every start, he'll be the National League Cy Young winner. He's got impressive stuff, he doesn't make mistakes and he kept the ball at the knees. Every at-bat I had he was on the black."
It was impressive, and it had to be to get the best of Yu Darvish, who himself befuddled the Bucs with the exception of one two-batter sequence in the seventh. Darvish abruptly exited his start after seven innings with a right leg cramp, throwing just 81 pitches.
Pedro Alvarez broke up the scoreless pitchers' duel in the seventh with the ultimate clutch hit -- with two outs on the scoreboard and two strikes on him, Alvarez lined a single to left-center to score Marlon Byrd, who had doubled with two down against his former (2007-09) team.
"It's not very comfortable," Alvarez said facing Darvish. "He throws a lot of pitches, throws them for strikes and changes speeds on you. You just try to go out there and stay as focused as you can. He does such a good job of keeping you off balance."
Due to a variety of circumstances, Cole, the young pitcher whose workload is being closely monitored, has become the ironic ironman of the rotation. His previous start, he had gone six innings in Milwaukee, giving him 13 rounds in consecutive starts.
In between Cole's starts, four other starters put up a total of 12 2/3 innings (including injury-shortened Charlie Morton's Sunday start). Cole threw 21 first-pitch strikes and recorded 11 outs throwing fewer than three pitches against 25 batters in the Pirates' first win in Arlington (1-6).
Cole struck out the side in the fifth, but allowed his only two walks with two outs in the sixth. Following a double steal to put both runners in scoring position, Cole forced Adrian Beltre to ground out to shortstop Clint Barmes.
"He's growing up," Hurdle said. "There's different times he's going to take different steps. I'm very optimistic this is going to be a step tonight because there's separation from his next best game to this one."
Cole was on thin ice from the beginning, that sense coming from the expectation the Pirates would not be able to do much damage against Darvish's repertoire. His ability to greatly vary his pitches' speeds had to be particularly vexing to batters seeing him for the first time.
You can only imagine what went through Garrett Jones' head, for instance, when the first three deliveries to him from Darvish in the third inning clocked 65, 94 and 74 mph. All pitchers change speeds; that's pulling the ripcord on the fastball.
"It's exactly what we needed, to come back with a win against a great pitcher," Jones said. "We battled the whole game. Cole pitched an awesome game, the game of his life so far, definitely the one we needed to get back on track."
Cole was masterfully up to the task. He kept the ice from cracking -- and may have also kept the rest of the Pirates from doing the same.
"I knew we were in a little bit of a rut, but I wasn't going out there trying to throw zeros," Cole said. "Whatever Yu was going to do, I was just trying to match or keep us in striking distance toward the end of the ballgame. He's really tough put together with all the different offerings he shows you. I was just glad I was able to keep the ball down and stay aggressive."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.