ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Gerrit Cole wasn’t nervous about making his first major league road start in his backyard until he heard “Calling All Angels,” the syrupy Train ballad played before every game at Angel Stadium.
“I’ve probably been listening to that song here since I was like 6 years old,” said Cole, the Pittsburgh Pirates phenom with pure Southern California roots. “I might have a couple of Rally Monkeys at home.”
Once the music faded, Cole shook off his homecoming jitters and kept rolling on an outstanding start to his career.
Cole pitched four-hit ball into the seventh inning in his native Orange County, earning his third straight victory in the Pirates’ 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
The Pirates’ 22-year-old right-hander out of Orange Lutheran High School and UCLA dazzled the Angels, repeatedly hitting 100 mph on the stadium radar gun. He struck out five and retired 11 straight before Albert Pujols’ leadoff homer in the seventh, leaving later in the inning to a warm ovation from his hometown fans.
“It was a lot of fun to see everybody and be back in California,” Cole said. “I wasn’t expecting to be back here for another few months, so it was great.”
Cole (3-0) is the first Pittsburgh pitcher to win his first three career starts since Myrl Brown in 1922. He even outpitched Angels ace Jered Weaver (1-4), who yielded nine hits and four runs over six rocky innings in his fourth straight winless start.
After beating Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke in his first two starts, it’s clear Cole can hold his own against the majors’ best — and still keep a sense of humor about his rising star.
“That’s like $400 million worth of pitching,” Cole said. “We’ve just been scoring runs and giving me a chance.”
Until they ran into Cole, the Angels had won six of eight while enjoying perhaps the best offensive stretch of their disappointing season. Los Angeles had scored at least five runs in six of its last eight games, including 10 runs and 17 hits while rallying from a seven-run deficit to beat Seattle on Thursday.
“That’s a power arm, there’s no doubt about that,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “The ball comes out hot. I think we had some good at-bats against him and hit some balls hard, but for the most part, he was pounding the zone with good stuff and pitched a good game for those guys.”
Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was born in nearby Newport Beach, Calif., and went to high school 15 minutes from Angel Stadium, racking up 121 strikeouts with an 0.46 ERA as a senior.
After three years at UCLA, Cole rocketed through the Pirates’ system and made his major league debut in Pittsburgh to much fanfare 10 days ago. The 6-foot-4 power pitcher hasn’t disappointed, beating San Francisco and the Dodgers in Pittsburgh before besting Weaver, who finished second in last year’s AL Cy Young voting.
“He pitched like he was pitching in front of his friends and family,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “He was geared up. He got after it. It was like he was pitching in his hometown, and he wasn’t going to let anybody down.”
Pedro Alvarez and Jordy Mercer homered in the second inning of the Pirates’ first game in Anaheim since 2007.
Jason Grilli pitched the ninth for his NL-leading 26th save.
Cole retired Los Angeles’ first seven hitters before back-to-back singles by Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos in the third, but he escaped the jam and didn’t allow another baserunner until the seventh.
The Angels finally got to Cole when Pujols led off with his 488th career homer off the fake rock pile in left-center field. That was the first major-league homer allowed by Cole, and he followed up by issuing his first career walk to Mark Trumbo.
Howie Kendrick then hit a liner back to the mound that hit Cole on the upper left thigh, but he stayed in the game.
“It’s pretty sore,” Cole said. “Got me right on the thigh. Good thing I’ve got fat legs.”
The Angels finally chased Cole on Alberto Callaspo’s RBI single, and the Anaheim crowd cheered the local kid on the way to the dugout.
Weaver hasn’t been his usual dominant self in five starts since returning from a 45-day stint on the disabled list. After he gave up Alvarez’s 17th homer to lead off the second inning, Mercer followed with a two-run shot, his fourth of the season.
“The last three starts it just kind of seems like there’s one inning that’s a blow-up inning, and I’ve just got to learn to stay away from that,” Weaver said. “It’s frustrating. I’m not doing a whole lot to help the team right now. I just have to keep battling, and hopefully things will turn around.”
The Pirates added another run in the fourth when Bourjos, normally a spectacular fielder, lost track of Starling Marte’s two-out fly to center. The ball landed well behind him for an RBI triple.
Josh Hamilton sat out with a sore right wrist, and the $125 million slugger isn’t likely to start a game this weekend while the Angels give him some rest. Hamilton, who was available off the bench, was in a 3-for-26 skid in the first seven games of the Angels’ homestand.
NOTES: Pittsburgh improved to 2-5 at the Big A, getting its only previous win here on June 11, 2002. … RHP Billy Buckner, selected from Triple-A Salt Lake before the game to take injured Jason Vargas’ roster spot, pitched 2 2-3 sharp innings of relief for Weaver, giving up one hit and one walk. … Mike Trout went 0 for 4, but made a full-stretch diving catch on Gaby Sanchez’s drive into the left-field corner in the fifth.